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Computers in Society:  2010-2011



Schedule BMSc in Advanced Computer Science



Computing takes place in a social context which can affect the ways in which technology develops and in turn may be affected by those developments. In this course, we study these influences, and examine questions that must be answered by computing professionals, policy makers, and members of the public, in relation to the potential uses and abuses of computing technology.

The course is illustrated by a number of case studies, and students are encouraged to draw upon a number of perspectives to address the issues raised by the case studies.

The course is designed to enable participants to:

  • Be aware of a variety of views of computing, including: historical; professional; social; political and cultural.
  • Identify areas of society where information technology has had a substantial impact and where its effects may be of concern.
  • Appreciate how different perspectives can contribute to making choices about the development and use of computing technology.
  • Appreciate the legal and social issues associated with the use of computers in organisations and computer crime.
  • Critically assess the concepts, theories and issues in recent public debates about technology and society and develop a personal position.
  • Present information in an organised and efficient manner
  • Provide informed opinions in discussion and debate about topics relating to technology and its effect on society

Coursework consists of discussion questions, group presentations, and a final written exam with essay-style questions. By those means it is expected that participants will also improve their verbal and written communication skills, as well as their presentation skills.


Coursework consists of discussion questions, student presentations, a mock trial, and a final written exam with essay-style questions. 

Course presentation combines lectures, seminars by external speakers, classes, and a group presentation. Students will present and watch presentations on a number of topics including, but not limited to:

  1. Overview. Computers and Society - investigating the relationship. Range of issues and perspectives to be studied. Brief history of computers and computing from one orientation.
  2. The Computing Professional. Role of the professional; professional codes of practice. Responsibility of software engineers.
  3. Computers and the Workplace. Computers in organisations - different effects of technology on organisational structure and workplace activities. Recent debates about changing nature of work and organisations.
  4. Computers and Professional Ethics. Theoretical underpinnings of ethical concepts - a reconsideration of critical concepts in theories of ethics; briefly reviewing philosophical and social approaches to the understanding of ethical issues.
  5. Computers and the Law. Protection; legal issues associated with public access to information; issues of control; intellectual property rights; software ownership; copyright patents.
  6. Computers and Politics. Workplace monitoring and public surveillance; privacy issues.
  7. Computers and Culture. Computers and culture - cultural aspects of computing; how social and cultural values shape system development.
  8. Case Study. Seminar with associated group presentation.


There are 7 classes and a mock trial. Course participants must contribute to both. The classes consist of group discussions of topics. The mock trial simulates a presentation court of a case derived from course material and involves all course participants.


The material from the lectures and classes will be assessed by take-home examination consisting of essay questions like those discussed in tutorial classes. The student lectures and mock trial will also be assessed and contribute towards a final mark.

Student Presentations

"Practice Presentation Schedule" If your presentation is not on this schedule, please contact me ASAP.

  Tuesday 2-3 Wednesday 2-3 Wednesday 3-4
Week 2

Nilu & Eugen


Ahmed & Mohammad

Artificial Intelligence

Week 3

Andrew & Qianze

Freedom of Speech

Bartoz & Davide


Nikolay & Konstantinos

Legal Issues

Week 4

Sanghamitra & Nicole

Intellectual Property

Nong & Hiru

Open Source Software


Reading list

There is no set text for the course, but it is recommended that students readSara Baase's, A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues in Computing, Prentice Hall (first edition, 1997; second edition, 2003). 

We shall also be drawing upon articles in Richard Epstein's The Case of the Killer Robot, Wiley (1997).

Many useful resources are available on the web. Examples include: