Computers in Society: 2021-2022
The course will focus on the role of computing technologies in contemporary society. It will introduce theoretical perspectives as well as empirical work to explore the relationships between technology and the ways in which societies are organised and in which people live their lives. Topics covered will include: online behaviour, Internet governance, machine learning bias, autonomous systems, the future of 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 and AI. We will consider the responsibilities of computing professionals, individual rights, the role of governance and regulation, and what ethical computer science looks like in practice.
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, encourage them to critically reflect and respond to these debates, and learn about how to engage with them in their own practice as (future) computing professionals.
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.
- A broad knowledge and understanding of the role of computing in contemporary societies.
- Awareness of pressing social, ethical, legal and policy questions arising in response to the contemporary innovation landscape.
- 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 group work, collaborative and presentation skills.
There are no prerequisites for the course. However, students often enjoy the opportunity to contribute their own perspectives and background knowledge so may find it useful to keep up to date with contemporary debates and developments in computing via mainstream news media and industry journals – such as Communications of the ACM
In HT 2022 the course will be conducted in person. In weeks 1 to 8 students attend lecture and discussion sessions. These sessions are intended to be interactive, and to develop students' discussion, presentation and debating skills. Each week will cover a specific topic:
- How can we understand the relationships between computing and society?
- Social media: Freedom of speech and individual rights online
- Machine learning: Bias in, bias out
- Autonomous vehicles: Morality in the machine?
- Digital technologies and political power
- The interconnected digital environment: Systemic risks and harms
- Responsibilities and mechanisms for addressing challenges
- Preparing for digital futures
Students taking the course will be divided into groups and each group will take 4 classes. These will last for 1.5 hours. 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 begin in week 3.
Assessment is typically 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.
There are no set texts for the course but it is recommended that students read/refer to 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
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: plato.stanford.edu
Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery’s conference on “Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency:” facctconference.org
Students will also be given/directed to chapters and papers from a variety of sources across the course. Sometimes it will be necessary to read them in advance of a particular lecture or class – students will be notified of this in advance of the relevant session.
For further general readings, students might like to read:
Attfield, R. (2012) Ethics: An overview, Bloomsbury Press.
Bartlett, J. (2017) The People Vs Tech: How the Internet is killing democracy (and how we can save it), Ebury Press
Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design Justice, MIT Press.
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.
Jassenoff, S. (2016). The Ethics of Invention: Technology and the Human Future, Norton Press.
Lupton, D. (2015) Digital Sociology, Routledge Press
Ochigame, R. (2019). “The Invention of ‘Ethical AI’: How Big Tech Manipulates Academia to Avoid Regulation” The Intercept.
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.
Véliz, C. (2020). Privacy is Power, Penguin Press.
Vincent, J. (2019). “The Problem with AI Ethics: Is Big Tech’s embrace of AI ethics boards actually helping anyone?” The Verge.
Wakabayashi, D (2020). “Big Tech Funds a Think Tank Pushing for Fewer Rules. For Big Tech” The New York Times
Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Penguin Press