CS 329E  Elements of Computing in Society
Elaine Rich
Fall, 2012


Topics and Reading Assignments


Lecture Slides

Class Information 

Term Project

Academic Integrity


Several years ago, a Washington, D.C. Metro train crashed during rush hour and nine people were killed.  The problem: a complex computer control system that lulled human operators into thinking they didn’t need to do anything.  But then the computer system failed and the complacent operator didn’t apply the brakes in time.


Several years ago, Tanya Rider’s car went off the road and crashed into a ravine.  She was trapped upside down in her car for eight days.  Tanya was eventually found by tracing the signals from her cell phone.  But the police didn’t try to find her right away, even though her husband had reported her missing.  What if she didn’t want to be found?  Do we still have rights to privacy in the cell and internet age?


A few years ago, Jamie Thomas, a 30 year-old single mom, was ordered to pay $220,000 to the RIAA for sharing 24 music files on Kazaa ($9,250 per song).  She later got a new trial.  Who owns the bits that are out there on the web?


A few years ago, Megan Meier, age 13, killed herself.  She’d been cyber bullied on MySpace by the mother of an ex-friend.  The mom had posed as a teen aged boy who was interested in Megan.  But then he dumped her in a particularly cruel way.  She became despondent and hanged herself.  The mom and her accomplices were convicted only of three misdemeanors. 


By 2050 or so, it’s likely that over half the jobs in the U.S. will be held by robots.  That’s not so now largely because robots can’t match people at seeing things.  But research is quickly changing that.  What happens to our economy if 50% of us are out of work?  Do the robots who work for us have rights?  Can we start planning now for life in a robotic world?


Computers touch everything we do today.  In this class we’ll look at many of the ways in which this is true.  We’ll try to get a sense of where we are today, where we appear to be heading, and what we can do now if we want to create a world in which computers enhance, rather than diminish, the human experience. 



CS 303E or CS 305J or CS 307 or one semester of programming at the college level or one year of programming in high school.

What You’ll Do

We’ll read books and papers and discuss them.  You need to check the Schedule of Topics and Assignments and come to each class prepared to discuss the reading assignment of that day.  Sometimes there will be homework assignments that relate to the reading and to the class discussions.


As you’re reading the news, be on the lookout for articles that touch on the issues that we are covering in class.  Every Thursday, you should come to class with a printout of an article that you found interesting.  You should be prepared to present your article to the class.


In addition, everyone in the class will pick a topic for a term project.  You’ll submit a final paper and present it to the class at the end of the semester.  Check the term project page for more information, including the evaluation sheets we’ll use for grading the project.


This class carries the Writing flag and the Ethics and Leadership flag.


More Information

Click on the tabs to the left for more information, including class meetings times, prerequisites, and the instructor’s contact information.