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Computers in Society:  2019-2020



Schedule S1(CS&P)Computer Science and Philosophy

Schedule BMSc in Computer Science



The course will focus on the role of computing technologies in contemporary society. It will introduce theoretical perspectives as well as empirical work on topics such as online behaviour, Internet governance, AI, and cyber security. We will cover some of the most pressing social, ethical, legal and policy questions that arise in the age of the information revolution. We will consider the professional responsibilities of computing professionals, individual rights in the information age, the role of governance and regulation, and potential trade-offs between factors such as security, privacy and liberty.

The main objectives of the course are to inform students about the role of computing in contemporary society, expose them to current debates surrounding the social, ethical, legal and policy questions in this area, and encourage them to critically reflect and respond to these debates.

Assessment will be based on a take home final essay (3000 words, references excluded) in which students will be assessed on their depth of understanding relating to key course topics, ability to draw on relevant literature, and demonstration of independent, critical thought. The course will be highly interactive in format; students will be expected to engage with the topics being discussed and collaborate with others in group work activities.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes: • A broad knowledge and understanding of the role of computing in contemporary society. • Awareness of pressing social, ethical, legal and policy questions arising in response to the contemporary innovation landscape • The ability to critically reflect on these kinds of social, ethical, legal and policy questions, and contribute to current debates in these areas. • Consideration of the responsibilities of computing professionals • Development of groupwork, collaborative and presentation skills.


Week 1  Technology and Society. The information society, computer ethics, and governance 

Week 2  Digital Technologies and political power 

Week 3  Online service providers and their responsibilities: lawful interception, the role of cryptography, and cloud computing.

Week 4  Freedom of speech and Individual rights online. 

Week 5  Automation and safety critical systems.

Week 6  Ethical AI and its governance.

Week 7  Cyber conflicts.

Week 8  Values, Design and Responsible Innovation.



Students taking the course will be divided into two groups. Each group will take 6 one hour classes. Students will be set a task which they must prepare and submit before each class. This will be marked and discussed during the class. Classes will run in weeks 3-8.


Reading list

It is recommended that students read:

There are no set texts for the course but it is recommended that students read the following:

Baase, S. (2013) A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology (4th Edition), Pearson

Baecker, R. (2019) Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, OUP

Johnson, D.G. (2009) Computer Ethics, (4th Edition), Pearson

Other Readings

Students will also be given/recommended chapters and papers from a variety of sources across the course. Sometimes it will be necessary to read them in advance of a particular session – students will be notified of this at least one week in advance of the relevant session.

For further general readings, students might like to read:

Attfield, R. (2012) Ethics: An overview, Bloomsbury Press.

Baggini, J. (2007) The Ethics Toolkit: a Compendium of Ethical Concepts and Methods Parts 1 and 2, Blackwell Press.

Bartlett, J. (2017) The People Vs Tech: How the Internet is killing democracy) and how we can save it), Ebury Press

Ermann, M.D., and Shauf, M.S. (2002), Computers, Ethics, and Society (3rd edition), OUP

Floridi, L. and Taddeo, M. (2014) The Ethics of Information Warfare, Springer Press.

Heffernan, T. (Ed.) (2019) Cyborg Futures: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Palgrave Macmillan Press.

Lupton, D. (2015) Digital Sociology, Routledge Press

O’ Neil, C. (2017) Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Penguin Press.

Scherling, L. and DeRosa, A. (Eds) (2020), Ethics in Design and Communication: New Critical Perspectives, Bloomsbury Press.

van den Hoven, M.J., Doorn, N., Swiestra, T., Koops, B.J.,and Romijn, H.A. (Eds.) (2014) Responsible Innovation 1: Innovative Solutions for Global Issues, Springer Press.

Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Penguin Press