Undergraduate Spotlight: Christina Quattrocki Knight

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed our lives and relationships over the past two years. In addition, it has fueled conversations surrounding individual liberty and surveillance. In her Ethics in Society Honors thesis, Christina Quattrocki Knight examined digital contact tracing as a framework for understanding democratic values. Knight graduates from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems with an emphasis in artificial intelligence, a minor in East Asian studies, and a master’s degree in philosophy. She has been selected as a 2023 Schwarzman Scholar, a one-year, fully-funded master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Before she heads off to China, we asked Knight about her journey in our Honors Program.

Why did you decide to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?

I decided to join the Honors Program because I wanted to write an honors thesis. I've always been more interested in interdisciplinary things – my major is symbolic systems. I'm also interested in computer science and philosophy, so I wanted to write about how those two disciplines are intertwined. And then also do work related to East Asian Studies. I thought this program provided a great way to apply some of the more historical philosophical things I've learned in class to our current context, including technology.

In a few sentences, give us a sense of what your honors thesis research was about.

I wrote about digital contact tracing and how people perceived digital contact tracing during the pandemic illustrates different cultural perceptions. Specifically, how people view privacy and freedom in different cultures. I looked at the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. In the US, people exhibited a much lower acceptance of all types of digital contact tracing measures. I argue that this may illustrate a misconception of more historical conceptions of individual liberty as being something that I called "bear liberty," doing whatever you want versus "justified freedom," which is the amount of liberty people ought to be able to exercise in a society that takes into account other's people freedom.

What was the single most rewarding aspect of writing your honors thesis?

I would say, giving the presentation. I was nervous, but a lot of my friends came and it felt like a nice wrap up bow so that was definitely the most rewarding part. The process of writing the thesis was also very enjoyable. It was nice to be able to work with Professor Mello who was available last summer to chat and available throughout the year so she was an incredible advisor in this journey.

What are some of your most memorable moments of your Stanford undergraduate experience? What will you miss the most?

I'm mostly going to miss the overall atmosphere of being around everybody who is excited to learn and talk about new things. The environment here is very collaborative but also exciting and driven. Just being a part of this community and not a visitor or an outsider to the community is special. It's also been great to be a part of the social community here and get to know people through the Honors Program and with folks in East Asian studies.

What opportunities would you like to pursue within the next five years?

Next year, I'm participating in the Schwarzman Scholars program. I’ll be going to Beijing. It's a year-long master's program that I'm really excited about. I’m looking forward to becoming fluent in Mandarin because I’ve taken it every single quarter here at Stanford. I'm still not quite there so definitely excited about speaking the language, and learning a lot. Looking ahead, I might want to go to law school. I'm interested in technology policy, how the ethical component fits into that and then maybe international tech policy.