CISC355 S2010

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Final grades as of May 27

Course information

Description CISC 355 -- Computers, Ethics, and Society

An examination of issues raised by the increasingly widespread use of computers from the point of view of those who make and program them, those who use them, and those who are affected by them indirectly. We will briefly cover the history of computing, some philosophical foundations to guide our analysis, ethics for computer professionals, and a number of topic areas. These include hacking and network security, privacy and civil liberties, intellectual property and commerce, artificial intelligence and robotics, and broader economic, environmental, and social issues.

Instructor Christopher Rasmussen
Office: Smith 446
Office hours: Tuesdays 2-3 pm and Thursdays 1-2 pm
Web page
Schedule Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 pm to 8:15 pm in Smith 201
  • 15% Create links to, write 1-paragraph summaries about online articles on class wiki (2.5% each). Due on first Tuesday of each unit (except first unit due to snowstorm schedule change)
  • 15% Pop quizzes (2.5% each). There will be one per unit on non-presentation days which have some assigned readings for that day, covering only the readings for that day or the class before
  • 15% Team presentation. These happen only on Thursdays.
  • 40% Position papers (20% each)
  • 15% Class participation. This includes attendance and how much you talk, but also the quality of what you say.

Each of your links/summaries should be created no earlier than one week before it is due, relevant to the current course unit, and new. "New" means neither the same as nor overly similar to any other link on this wiki (instructor- or student-created, including from the 2009 version of the course). This includes stories by different media outlets on the same news item. Thus, there is an incentive to post your link early so you are not scooped! Your summary should contain proper bibliographic information and explain enough of what the article is about so that someone can decide whether they want to read it.

For the team presentation, multi-student teams will be assigned roles for a real or hypothetical case involving computer ethics issues. You will deliver a set of slides/outline from the point of view of your role on the day of class, and be prepared to orally present your perspective and lead the discussion in class that day. More details here.

Each position paper is a 4-page analysis of a topic or topics covered in class before its due date. A proposal for a paper subject is due to the instructor at least two weeks before the final document is turned in. In your paper you should summarize the facts of any relevant reading(s) and analyze ethical-social issues raised (following the ImpactCS approach, referring to items in the ACM/IEEE codes, and/or talking more generally about deontological vs. consequentialist perspectives). Do not simply summarize readings!

There are a few constraints on position papers: (1) position paper topics must not shadow presentation topics, and (2) you may not use a case from or

Your links and position papers are due by midnight of the deadline day (with a grace period of a few hours afterward). Just post the links, but e-mail your position papers directly to the instructor. A late homework is a 0 without a valid prior excuse. To give you a little flexibility, you have 6 "late days" to use on these to extend the deadline by one day each without penalty. No more than two late days may be used per assignment. Late days will automatically be subtracted, but as a courtesy please notify the instructor in an e-mail of your intention to use them before the deadline.

Students can discuss problems with one another in general terms, but must work independently on all assignments except the team presentation. This also applies to online and printed resources: you may consult them as references (as long as you cite them), but the words you turn in must be yours alone. Any quoting must be clear and appropriately cited. The University's policies on academic dishonesty are set forth in the student code of conduct here.

For the overall course grade, a preliminary absolute mark will be assigned to each student based on the percentage of the total possible points they earn according to the standard formula: A = 90-100, B = 80-90, C = 70-80, etc., with +'s and -'s given for the upper and lower third of each range, respectively. Based on the distribution of preliminary grades for all students (i.e., "the curve"), the instructor may increase these grades monotonically to calculate final grades. This means that your final grade can't be lower than your preliminary grade, and your final grade won't be higher than that of anyone who had a higher preliminary grade.

I will try to keep you informed about your standing throughout the semester. If you have any questions about grading or expectations at any time, please feel free to ask me.


Supplemental readings


Note: The blue squares in the "#" column below indicate Tuesdays.

# Date Topic Notes/video Readings Links
1 Feb. 9 Course introduction; part 1 of history of computing Slides
Feb. 11 NO CLASS
University closed for snowstorm
2 Feb. 16 Part 2 of history of computing "Triumph of the Nerds", part I, Robert Cringely PBS documentary, 1996
  • "The Computer", Otto Friedrich, Time magazine Person of the Year story, Jan. 4, 1983
3 Feb. 18 Ethics basics Moral tests, morality in animals, metaethics
4 Feb. 23

Register/add deadline Feb. 22

Ethics basics Overview of normative, applied ethics
  • Sections 2 & 3 of Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
Links HW #1 (computing history)
5 Feb. 25 Professional issues Product reliability, whistle-blowing Team #1 (McGinnis, Kiser, Singh) presentation
6 Mar. 2 Professional issues Codes of ethics
Instructor away
Position paper #1 proposal due
7 Mar. 9 Hacking/network security Hacker ethics, netiquette Links HW #2 (professional issues)
9 Mar. 11 Hacking/network security Security research, botnets, captchas

Team #2 (Vinod, Reskakis, Merrick) presentation

10 Mar. 16 Hacking/network security Worm and virus writers, white hats vs. black hats
11 Mar. 18 Hacking "War Games", part 1 Position paper #1 due
12 Mar. 23 Hacking "War Games", conclusion & discussion
13 Mar. 25 Privacy/civil liberties Privacy, surveillance, free speech Team #3 (Gilsenan, Buckley, Senseny) presentation
Mar. 30 NO CLASS
Spring break
Spring break
14 Apr. 6 Privacy/civil liberties Anonymity Links HW #3 (hacking/network security)
15 Apr. 8 Privacy/civil liberties Social networking
16 Apr. 13 Intellectual property/commerce Copyright, free software, piracy Links HW #4 (privacy/civil liberties)
17 Apr. 15

Withdraw deadline Apr. 16

Intellectual property/commerce DMCA, net neutrality Team #4 (Magee, Allen, Schiavo) presentation
18 Apr. 20 Intellectual property/commerce Business rating sites, spam
19 Apr. 22 AI/robotics Safety issues, caregiving (medical/educational) Team #5 (Yates, Busanus, Alikhan) presentation
20 Apr. 27 AI/robotics Rights of robots Links HW #5 (IP/commerce)
21 Apr. 29 AI/robotics Military applications
22 May 4 Social issues Labor, environmental (energy, pollution) impacts Position paper #2 proposal due

Links HW #6 (AI/robotics)

23 May 6 Social issues Depersonalization, online social interactions Team #6 (Schulte, Qasim) presentation
24 May 11 Social issues Equity of access

PBS Frontline "Digital Nation", part 1

25 May 13 NO CLASS
26 May 18 Social issues "Digital Nation", part 2 and discussion Position paper #2 due