General Course Info


  • Instructor: Sucheta Ghoshal [sucheta (at) gatech.edu]
  • First Day of Class: Monday, May 11
  • First Day of Discussion: Wednesday, May 13
  • Time/Location of Class Discussion: Wednesdays, 9:30am-11:40am, Class Link on Canvas
  • Office Hours: by appointment
  • TA: Marcia Schulman [email]
  • TA Office Hours: by appointment

In this class, you will learn about:

Computing & Society
In what ways does computing technology impact society and its people? How do larger societal structures of race, gender, and class influence computing technologies? We'll talk about a host of issues including privacy, surveillance technologies, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.
Ethics
How can we make the most ethical choices when dealing with issues of computing and society? What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? How is "ethical" different from “legal"? Is ethics enough to ensure that the technologies we create work for all people, and not just a select few? We'll learn about classical philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitiarianism, deontology, social contract theory, and virtue ethics. We will also analyze practical scenarios and stories from all around the world that urge us to ask hard questions about the philosophical foundations of the ethical frameworks we learn. The goal is for students to be able to address ethical dilemmas with reasoned arguments, grounded in a combination of these ethical theories.
Professional Ethics
What special responsibilities do we have as computing professionals? What do the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and ACM Code of Ethics say, and how can we use these in our daily practice?
Argumentation
How do you construct a well-reasoned argument? Whatever you go on to do in your professional career, your success will arguably depend more on your oral and written communication skills than on your technical skills. This class is one of your few and precious opportunities to work to improve those skills.

Academic integrity: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you are expected to do your assignments and work on your own. Your final paper will be an independent effort created solely by you. For it, you may use appropriately cite sources on the web. It is appropriate to discuss your paper with others to gain ideas and feedback and help with sticky problems. It is not appropriate to find an existing paper, modify it and submit it as your own work. If in doubt, confer with your instructor.

All students are expected to adhere to the Georgia Tech Honor Code.

Course Schedule

NOTE: the following schedule is to accomodate for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and is subject to change as required. We will run the class in a combination of asychronous and synchronous methods: we shall meet online on days highlighted in green for discussions on readings for the entire week; attendance on these discussion days are not mandatory, however, highly encouraged and will count toward participation grade. If for any reason (related to health, internet connectivity or other things affected by the ongoing crisis) you cannot join, please reach out to the instructor and the TA to request for a waiver of attendance on these discussions.

Dates Topic Reading and Activities Assignments Due
5-11 Welcome and Overview Introductions
  • Introduce yourselves in your first Canvas reflection: your preferred name and pronoun; your program and major; one issue related to computing society you are concerned about; anything else you want to add.
  • Respond to this survey so I can best accomodate you in this new class format.
5-13 The Case of Computing and Society The Limits of Correctness by Brian Cantwell Smith Reading Reflection (RR)
5-18 Politics of artifacts Do Artifacts Have Politics? By Langdon Winner RR
5-20 Utilitarianism RR
5-25 No class-memorial day N/A
  • N/A
5-27 Deontology & Social Contract Theory Quinn 2.6, 2.9
  • RR
6-1 Stakeholder Analysis & Virtue Ethics
6-3 Freedom of Speech & Networked Communications RR
6-8 Privacy and the Government RR
6-10 Discussion of Term Paper Proposals
  • Come to class prepared to tell everyone about your term paper topic.
6-15 Insurrectionist ethics Insurrectionist ethics by Leonard Harris (p.192-p.210 of Ethics for the New Millenium)
  • RR
6-17 Race & computing
  • RR
  • Midterm release
6-22 Gender & Computing Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination by Sasha Costanza-Chock RR & HW2 due
6-24 Class & Computing How the surveillance state destroys the lives of poor whites and people of color by Betts, RD Midterm submission
6-29 AI, Algorithms, and Bias Quinn Chapter 8.1-8.4, 8.7-8.8
7-1 Power of Corporations, Big Data, and Manipulation RR
7-6 Work and Wealth RR
7-8 The Participation Divide RR
7-13 Computing & social good? RR
7-15 Revisiting computing & social good Final exam release
7-20 Term paper presentations Term paper presentations
7-22 No reading, focus on the exam N/A
  • Final exam submission

Syllabus

Lectures

For the asynchronous part of the class, I will be uploading recorded lectures on Canvas and a subsequent announcement notifying you about the recording. You are encouraged to listen to these lectures in addition to the readings; the lectures will cover the main takeaways I would like you to get from the readings. Note that these readings are open to some subjective interpretations; meaning, you may notice things that I don't, which is where the Canvas exchanges come in. Share what you thought of the readings on Canvas, I will do my best to engage with your thoughts there and in our discussion meetings.

Participation

It is expected that students will participate online, be prepared by doing the readings, and will pay attention and participate in discussions. Doing all three regularly will earn full credit. Contributions to Canvas discussions count towards class participation.

Reading Reflections

Reflections are due on Canvas at 11:59pm on the day of the class. For this, you are expected to submit:

  • a summary of the readings
  • connections you can make between the readings (if there are more than one reading, if not, skip this part)
  • two questions that the readings raised for you.
Participation and discussion on Canvas as responses to each others' questions are highly encouraged and will be counted toward the participation grade.

Assignments

Reading reflections carry 5% of the total grade.

Homeworks will be graded on a list of criteria (specified on the assignment) such as quality of writing, completeness, insight into technical issues, insight into social issues, etc. A means "you impressed me." B means the assignment is incomplete, incorrect, or sloppy in some fashion with respect to that criterion. These are general guidelines to let you know what to expect. Grading on specific assignments may differ.

If English is not your first language, you may request to not be graded on your writing for a particular individual assignment, including the term paper. This means you won't be penalized for bad writing. To take advantage of this option, you must mark "ESL" (English as a Second Language) on the first page of your assignment/paper. This option is not available for group assignments. We will do our best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

Required Textbooks

[Quinn] Ethics for the Information Age, Seventh Edition, by Michael Quinn (You may rent an electronic copy rather than buying it.)

Grading

Component Weight
Reading Reflections 5%
Participation 20%
HW Assignment 15%
Exams 20%
Term Paper 40%

Late Policy

Assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 3 pts (one grade step: A becomes A-) per day. Assignments more than one week late will not be accepted.

Over the course of the term, you have three "late days" where work may be late with no explanation needed. Please mark “Use my late days” on the first page of your assignment/paper if want to use your late days when you make late submissions. Use your late days wisely as different submissions have different weights.

Acknowledgments

Assignments and ideas on this syllabus build on those from everyone who has taught it before, especially Amy Bruckman, Colin Potts, Mary Jean Harrold, Bill Ribarsky, and Spencer Rugaber.