Skip to main content

Ethics and Responsible Innovation:  2022-2023



Preliminary ExaminationsComputer Science and Philosophy

Preliminary ExaminationsComputer Science

Preliminary ExaminationsMathematics and Computer Science



This course for first year undergraduates shines a spotlight on questions of ethics and responsibility as they relate to contemporary computing. In recent years there has been an increased focus on fairness, trust, accountability and transparency in computer science as a discipline as well as awareness that the increased prevalence and influence of computer based innovations in our lives has been accompanied by significant concerns that these innovations are not always safe and do not always act in our best interests. The course provides an opportunity for students to learn about key strands of understanding in these areas and to reflect on their views in relation to current debates.

Learning outcomes

  • To learn about core ethical principles and normative theories
  • To attain understanding of how these principles and positions relate to computer science in practice
  • To deepen understanding of ethical challenges and controversies that arise in areas of contemporary computer science research and practice
  • To learn about the field of Responsible Innovation (RI) and understand how RI approaches can benefit computer based innovation
  • To learn about and reflect on different opportunities through which ethical challenges in computer science can be addressed
  • To critically reflect on the responsibilities of computer science professionals
  • To develop group-work skills


There are no prerequisites for the course.


Students will attend 4 lectures in Michaelmas and 2 practicals in Hilary.  
Lecture 1 will introduce the topic, focussing on the harms that computer systems can do to individuals and society. Lecture 2 will cover some of the foundational concepts of ethics, and lecture 3 will and 3 will disfcuss values and privacy. Lecture 4 will focus on the promotion of best ethical practice in computer science through codes of practice and the Responsible Innovation framework.  Students will be encouraged to consider these challenges from a variety of perspectives and apply normative ethical positions to them. They will also be encouraged to consider potential solutions to overcome these challenges.
In addition to the lectures, students will attend 2 practical seminars. In these sessions they will be put into small groups and given tasks to carry out. The seminars will consolidate material covered in the lectures and will provide an opportunity for students to develop their own critical thinking by applying what they have learnt to specific scenarios.



Students will be assessed individually. During the seminars they will be assessed in terms of the participation in the group-work and class activities. At the end of the course each student will also submit a short written overview of their reflections of the course. This will be assessed. The three assessment marks will be combined to give a global grade for the course: S-, S or S+

Reading list

The lecture slides contain references to numerous online sources, which course participants are encouraged to explore led by their own interests and curiosity. Some books of interest are:


  • The Digital Ape: how to live (in peace) with smart machines, Nigel Shadbolt and Roger Hampson (Scribe UK, 2018).
  • Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cathy O'Neill (Penguin, 2017)
  • Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, Safiya Umoja Noble (NYU Press, 2018)
  • ... more to be added.



Students are formally asked for feedback at the end of the course. Students can also submit feedback at any point here. Feedback received here will go to the Head of Academic Administration, and will be dealt with confidentially when being passed on further. All feedback is welcome.

Taking our courses

This form is not to be used by students studying for a degree in the Department of Computer Science, or for Visiting Students who are registered for Computer Science courses

Other matriculated University of Oxford students who are interested in taking this, or other, courses in the Department of Computer Science, must complete this online form by 17.00 on Friday of 0th week of term in which the course is taught. Late requests, and requests sent by email, will not be considered. All requests must be approved by the relevant Computer Science departmental committee and can only be submitted using this form.