Computer Ethics


Spring 2020
Time: Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 4:20pm
Location: It’s Spring 2020, so all class meetings will be via Zoom — same meeting room for the whole quarter. It is in Canvas, and it was emailed at the beginning of the quarter.
Instructor: Dan Grossman
Office hours: Thursdays 7:30-8:30PM, see Canvas or your email for the Zoom meeting room (or email Dan)
Discussion board

Please do not hesitate to write to the instructor about any accommodations or questions related to readings or course material.


Be it social-media platforms, robots, or big data systems, the code Allen School students write—the decisions they make—influences the world in which it operates. This is a survey course about those influences and ways to think about them. We recognize, “the devil is in the implementation details.”

The course is divided into two parts: In the first part, we survey historical and local issues in tech, particularly those concerning data. We then engage with critical perspectives from disciplines such as machine ethics and science and technology studies as a framework for students to articulate their own beliefs concerning these systems. In the second part, we apply these perspectives to urgent issues in applied technologies, such as facial recognition and misinformation.

Throughout, students hone their critical reading and discussion skills, preparing them for a life-long practice of grappling with the—often unanticipated—consequences of innovation.

We approach topics such as: AI ethics, social good, utopianism, governance, inclusion, facial recognition, classification, privacy, automation, platforms, speculative design, identity, fairness, power and control, activism, and subversive technologies.


By the end of this course students will:

  • Obtain awareness of issues arising from the use of computers in contemporary sociotechnical systems
  • Articulate technological harms to individuals and groups in the language of critical perspectives
  • Appreciate how historical, cultural, economic, and political factors contribute to how technologies are built and designed
  • View themselves as both subjects and creators of sociotechnical systems
  • Understand and articulate complex arguments pertaining to values in technology
  • Recognize the diversity of stakeholders and views when considering a technology
  • Amplify voices and values not traditionally considered in technological development (e.g., in design processes)
  • Re-imagine and speculate alternative histories and futures for using and coexisting with computers


(future readings and assignments subject to change)