CS 330 Societal & Ethical Issues in Computing
Spring 2023

Prof. Michael S. Kirkpatrick

If you need to speak to me about course material, please come to office hours. For other concerns, my availability can be found on the calendar page. Please check there before emailing to ask when I can meet.

Course policies (including grading information) is posted in the CS 330 Syllabus.

Course Description

Should web site designers be legally required to accommodate blind users? Who should be held financially responsible for accidents caused by a self-driving car? How should hospitals respond when their systems are locked by ransomware? Can countries use military force to retaliate against cyberwar attacks? Why can't we use smartphone apps to vote in elections? Should government agencies be allowed to purchase user-tracking data? How do we protect civil rights online? Should revenge porn be a crime? Can algorithms be racist or sexist? Is it okay to label someone's sexual orientation using facial recognition on social media posts? Should there be carbon taxes targeted at cryptocurrency exchanges? Does digital redlining constitute a violation of civil rights? Should the ability to use a computer be a requirement for employment?

Computing has changed all facets of our lives, allowing us to maintain interpersonal connections with distant family and friends, adjust our workplace to our individual preferences, and share information that challenges the balance of power with police and governments. In many cases, these changes may create a great benefit to one group of individuals while extracting a great cost for others. We will use the tools of critical inquiry, ethical frameworks, and legal policies to assess how computing has and will continue to change your life and the lives of people around the world. The topics that we will discuss include the foundations of computing ethics, intellectual property, security & cybercrime, privacy, freedom of expression, AI ethics, gender & race in computing, and the future of work.

Critical inquiry into the social, professional, legal, and ethical concerns of computing and technology. The course will emphasize the application of logical and ethical reasoning, as well as placing topics within the appropriate legal and social context. Topics include history of computing, codes of ethics, security & privacy, political issues, intellectual property, economic issues, professional responsibilities. Prerequisites: CS 345, WRTC 210, and junior standing.

Course Objectives

Mastery of this material allows students to develop a more sophisticated view of computing and the power of high-level software abstractions. Students who complete this course can expect to meet the following objectives:

  • Articulate the need for computer scientists to cultivate apply ethical reasoning skills.
  • Analyze a computing-related ethical dilemma through the lens of common normative ethical frameworks.
  • Identify and evaluate technical, ethical, and sociological resources used as evidence in support of debates about computing.
  • Summarize key relevant legal concepts and historical developments relating to intellectual property, security, privacy, and speech.
  • Express and critique multiple perspectives related to ethical dilemmas in computing.
  • Explain the variety of barriers to equal access in computing.
  • Identify the benefits and harms of computing.
  • Articulate and embody the moral obligations of computing professionals.
  • Reflect on and critique the norms and values that are common in the computing profession.

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