Ethics, Society, and Computers
This course will explore computing technologies as they pertain to society along ethical dimensions. In particular, it will examine what it means to be an ethical computer scientist and the societal implications of computer technology. Each week, we’ll read about a different topic or case study (e.g. privacy) and discuss the related quandaries in class. This course will afford a moment to look up from the minutia of computer science—algorithmic complexity, fitting models, appropriate use of MVC, etc.—to examine the impact of technology on society at large.
This course will provide a space and the impetus for exploration of ethical issues in computer science. The point of this class is not for the dictation of what is ethical (or the contrary), but rather for students to play a role in critically exploring technology. At the end of this course, students will have gained a broader conception of dilemmas in current computing technologies and will have a stronger framework with which to develop their own ethical responsibilities.
Many of the topics explored in this class are relevant because of their contentiousness. Students should bring an open mind and a desire to examine perspectives possibly different than their own. It is important that everyone be particularly respectful of each other’s positions.
Every student must also, at some point during the quarter, attempt to engage a broader community (outside of this seminar) with some of the ideas discussed. This could consist of a discussion with a friend, a Facebook post, or a related assignment in another class. Please remember to get consent from any participants! Proof of the engagement activity—a screenshot of a post, an audio recording, at least one paragraph written summary, etc.—must be submitted by the last day of class.
This seminar will be graded credit or no credit. In order to receive credit, students must submit 7/9 write-ups, attend 7/9 seminars, and complete the engagement activity. That said, the point of this course is not a grade. Students should attend because of the readings and discussions—not in spite of them.
1/16: Accountability in Computer Systems
1/23: Values in Technology
- Read The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers
- Read Big data's end run around procedural privacy protections (longer version here)
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 1/29, at 11:59pm
- Read Why Privacy is Important
- Read Ethical Aspects of Information Security and Privacy (p. 21 - 36)
2/6: Conceptions of Data
- Read Big Data, Machine Learning, and the Social Sciences
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 2/5, at 11:59pm
- Read the introduction of The Politics of Large Numbers
- Read Datafication, dataism and dataveillance
- Read Algorithmic governmentality and prospects of emancipation
2/13: Algorithmic Bias
- Read Inspecting Algorithms for Bias
- Read A computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions was labeled biased against blacks. It’s actually not that clear
- Read Make Algorithms Accountable
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 2/12, at 11:59pm
Optional (more on policing + algorithms):
- Read Fighting Neo-Nazis and Freedom of Expression
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 2/19, at 11:59pm
- Watch The Line Between Hate and Debate an interview with Facebook's Head of Global Policy Management
- Read The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech
2/27: Access to Technology
- Read Universal usability
- Read Bridging a Digital Divide That Leaves Schoolchildren Behind
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 2/26, at 11:59pm
- Read The Digital Divide as a Complex and Dynamic Phenomenon
- Read After Access chapter three, "Gradations of Mobile Internet Experiences"
3/5: Looking forward on the Tech Industry
- Read Facebook Doesn’t Need a Chief Ethics Officer
- Read Engaging the ethics of data science in practice
- Fill out the course evaluation
- Post on the discussion board due Monday, 3/4, at 11:59pm
- Submit write up of engagement activity due Monday, 3/4, at 11:59pm