CS 349  Contemporary Issues in Computer Science
Alan Cline and Elaine Rich


Topics and Assignments


Lecture Slides

Class Information 

Term Project

Internet Resources

Academic Integrity


There will be two sections of this class, both co-taught by Alan Cline and Elaine Rich.  The two sections (one at 2:00, the other at 3:30) will be identical.  But we will require that you come to the session for which you are registered.  If we don’t do this, the groups will become too lopsided in size.

Course Description     

In this class, we’ll cover a collection of issues that:

  • Matter to computer scientists, and/or
  • Matter to our society and that computer scientists have some significant impact on.


We’ll look at issues from several points of view:

  • What is ethical?
  • What is (or should be) legal?
  • What makes sense economically?


Some specific topics that we’ll discuss are:

  • Why do new technologies create conceptual muddles that lead to policy vaccuums?
  • How can standard ethical theories inform the decisions we make every day as professionals?
  • What parts of a computer system can be trademarked and/or copyrighted?
  • Where’s the balance between rights of artists and rights of their customers?
  • Who’s legally liable if your program has a bug and someone dies?
  • Who has the right to say what?
  • Is there any role for the professional media in the Internet age?
  • Is privacy a thing of the past?  Should it be?
  • How do we balance the risks inherent in complex technology?
  • How can we protect ourselves against Internet hackers?
  • Are electronic voting machines a good idea?
  • Is information technology creating/exacerbating a world of haves and have nots?  Do we care?
  • What’s happening to people’s jobs?
  • What’s the role of technology in warfare?
  • Suppose we could build artificial people, should we?
  • As professionals, what responsibilities do all of us have with respect to these issues?


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, as well as a short video, which we’ll watch in 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.


Contact Information

Alan Cline – cline@cs.utexas.edu

Elaine Rich - ear@cs.utexas.edu