Ethics, Society, and Computers


Winter 2018

Time: Tuesdays 2:30 - 3:20 pm

Location: EEB 042

Chief explorer: Jared Moore


Conversation Hours: Ad hoc


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.


Each week, students are expected to read the assigned article(s) and submit through Canvas a brief response of three to five sentences in length, due the Monday at 11:59pm before class (except for our first meeting). These responses should demonstrate understanding of the reading and should entail of the following: raise or answer questions, connect the work to previous readings, critique the work, respond to a previous post, etc. The responses will be graded on a did/ did not do basis.

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.


1/9: Introduction



1/16: Accountability in Computer Systems



2/20: Expression



2/27: Access to Technology