CSE 175: Social and Ethical Issues in Information
Technolgy - Fall 2003
- Assignments will normally be posted by Friday, due the next Wednesday; you
should check this page frequently for updates.
- Grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to use the
concepts that (we hope!) you are learning in class. Be sure to answer the
question that is asked.
- Your homework is due in class, but you may hand it in earlier. There
will be homework due every week, starting second week.
- Every problem you hand in will be checked, but only a random subset will
be graded (chosen to be maximally helpful to you, subject to our resource
limitations); you will get up to 3 points for a problem that is handed in
and checked, and up to 10 points for one that is graded. Optional homework
problems will be worth (up to) 2 points extra credit. Of course, the total
for homework will be weighted appropriately when combined with the midterm
- Please hand in homework in paper hardcopy form; do not email me or the TA
an attachment! Computer printed paper is much preferred; if your handwriting
is too hard to read, you will lose points. You may also lose points if your
solution is too difficult to understand, whether due to English or technical
- Please include the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the due date. If there are
multiple pages, you should staple them; since there are many students, loose
pages are likely to be lost, and you will not get credit. Please include your
email address, so you can be contacted in case of questions.
- For problems that require use of a computer, always hand in both your
input and your output as part of your solution.
- Please do not ask the TA, grader, or professor for help doing your
homework; this is not fair to other students. Of course, it is encouraged
to ask questions about the content of the course! And you can also ask
about bugs in the homework problems (if there are any).
- Read critically: source material is not all of the same
quality; scholarly articles in well respected refereed technical journals are
much more likely to be accurate than purportedly scholarly articles found on
corporate websites, or in popular magazines and daily newspapers, let alone in
free weekly magazines, random websites, or product advertisements. However,
even a genuine scholarly paper may contain factural errors and sometimes even
deliberate distortions. Think about what you read, and make up your own mind!
Discussing issues with other students or friends can often help to clarify
your own thought. But you should not write up your homework assignments
jointly with other students. Do not place your answers in a public place
(such as your website).
- You must give a proper citation for any material you use from a book,
paper, or website in answering a question. You must use proper format for
citations, including full names of authors, full title, date of publication,
page numbers, and publisher, whenever applicable; for example, do not
just give a URL.
- The homework problems assigned at the beginning of the class are easier
than those later in the class, so please do not be misled into thinking that
this is a particularly easy class.
- Due 1 October:
- Give two examples of technological determinism in popular writing; give
specific quotes that clearly show the author is guilty of technological
determinism. Good examples can often be found in popular computer books,
e.g., by George Gilder, popular magazines, e.g., Wired, the local
computer freebees (e.g., for job placement), or in advertisements and even
news articles in newspapers. Be sure to include a photocopy or printout
highlighting the specific quote, and briefly explain why each one is an
- Write at least one page (about 400 words) on some example of politics
(in the sense of the definition in the class
notes) in an information technology workplace. Your own experience would
be best, but you can also interview someone and base your essay on their
experience. If all else fails, you can use a published article describing
the political aspects of some workplace, such as the one by Hales in Star
(ed), Cultures of Computing, or by Button and Sharrock in Jirotka and
Goguen (eds), Requirements Engineering: Social and Technical Issues.
Be specific; do not just give generalities.
- Due 8 October:
- Give and explain some actual cause/effect statement that oversimplifies
a complex social situation, but also helps to explain it. You may get a
quotation from a newspaper, magazine, website, a colleague at work, etc., but
you must not just make up a quotation. You must include the actual
quotation, say precisely where it came from, give an explanation of its
social context, and say how the statement relates to that context. You
should also include the larger text from which the quotation was taken.
- Counting is about the simplest scientific procedure that can be imagined,
so one might think it could not possibly be much entangled with the social
processes and ethical difficulties that so often appear in more complex
situations. Yet the ballot counting that occurred in Florida for the 2000
presidential election clearly demonstrates that not even the simplest
scientific procedures can be separated from their social and ethical context.
An amazingly complex dance went on between seemingly social and seemingly
technical issues, with an extremely high public visibility, against a
background of deeply ethical problems. The webpage Counting in Florida collects some
material that goes far beyond what appeared in local newspaper or TV. Use it
in writing an essay on some incident in the Florida recount that you think
illustrates the intertwining of technical, social, and ethical issues
particularly well; your comments need not be lengthy, but should pointedly
address the intertwining of social, technical and ethical issues. (Warnings:
Some of the URLs given there are probably dead by now, but you can still
search for other relevant data using Google. Also, some links may go into
the Fall 2000 website for CSE 275, not back to the website for this course.)
- (For extra credit) Discuss the metaphorical dimension of words and
phrases used in your examples of technological determinism. (Guidelines on
doing such analyses can be found in the book Metaphors we Live by by
Lakoff and Johnson. Two examples of loaded verbs are "push" and "drive.")
- Due 15 October:
- Find a short narrative and analyze it in the style of the example in The Structure of Narrative; in
particular, describe its formal structure and the values that it embodies; be
sure to support your assertions about values with precise arguments based on
the text that you chose.
- Pick some aspect of student cheating, describe a clear example of it,
and give an argument for why it is wrong. Say what kind of ethical theory
(or theories) you draw upon in this argument, and mention some
presuppositions of that theory (or theories). This should in the form of an
essay about one page (400 words) in length. Do not simply say what you think
is right and wrong, or even just say why; the point of this exercise to is
for you to analyze your own ethical arguments.
- Due 22 October:
- Pick two important technical issues in the design of the hospital
scheduling system discussed in Confronting ethical issues of systems
design in a web of social relationships, by Ina Wagner (in
Computerization and Controversy, ed. Rob Kling, pp. 889-902), and
discuss their ethical implications. Identify the ethical approaches that
your discussion draws upon.
- Try to use the categorical imperative either to justify or refute the
Old Testament principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," or
else the New Testament principle to "turn the other cheek" (or both if you
feel ambitious). Describe any particular difficulties that arise in your
- Answer the three questions at the top of page 904 of Power in systems
design, by Bo Dahlbom and Lars Mathiassen, in Computerization and
Controversy, ed. Rob Kling, pp. 903-906; justify your answers.
- Due 3 November:
- (Double credit) The questions below concern the paper How things (actor-net)work: Classification, magic and the
ubiquity of standards, by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star.
Write at least one short paragraph on each question, noting that the answers
may not be explicit in the paper.
- What does the phrase "as if by magic" mean when applied to technology in
the context of this paper?
- What work do classifications and standards do? Relate this to "magic".
- Who does that work?
- What happens to cases that don't fit? Why is this important?
- What criticisms does the paper make (usually stated quite mildly) of
- Due 5 November:
- Draw a diagram of the major actants and their most important relations in
the Nicaragua briquette network (due to Madeleine Akrich) as described by
John Law in Traduction / Trahison - Notes on
ANT; explain and justify your diagram. Michel Callon calls such
- Identify and discuss some major values that are being translated along
the edges of your sociogram in the above problem.
- Due 12 November:
- Write a short essay giving your own views on ethical issues in the
"science wars." You should at least show that you understand what Sokal did,
the kind of thing that he and others said about it, and what its significance
is. Your views should be supported by some good reasoning.
- Define and discuss the differences among at least three different kinds
- Due 19 November:
- Write a paragraph on the contradiction in the notion of freedom discussed
Agre's paper The Market and the
Net. You may raise ethical or political issues, but must argue
rigorously, using ideas introduced in this class.
- Write a brief essay on Richard Posner's "panopticon marketplace" (you
should look up "panopticon" unless you already know the definition);
rather than reading Posner in the original, you can rely on Agre's The Market and the Net; personal
opinion is OK but must be supported with rigorous arguments.
- Briefly discuss some limitations of the supply and demand model of market
equilibrium; make at least two specific points (and do not merely repeat my
general critique of underlying assumptions of neo-classical economics). See
Section 8.3 of the class notes.
- Due 26 November:
- Analyze the effects of a tax cut on a supply and demand market model,
assuming that the consumer was paying the tax, using methods analoguous to
those used in Section 8.3.
- Apply the analysis of security vs. risk in Geer's Risk Management is where the Money is to
the demise of DigiCash described in Agre's Editorial on Internet
Businesses, especially noting the sentence "If a particular licensee
can find a legal jurisdiction to offer utterly anonymous digital bearer
instruments backed by totally anonymous reserves, then, as long as the
licensee pays up, god bless 'em." in the attached email by Robert Hettinga
(you may assume that this sentence reveals how the DigiCash protocols work).
- Name three myths discussed by Raymond in The Magic Cauldron. What is the
"tragedy of the commons," and how does it relate to open source software?
Discuss some of the economic principles that lie behind the myths that you
named, and also behind the "tragedy of the commons."
- Due 3 December:
- Write one paragraph answering each of the following questions; you may
have to do a little research to obtain information that is not in the assigned
If you are not already familiar with the history of Galileo, you may want to
look at St
Andrews website on Galileo. You may also want to skim Worlds without End, from a book by James
Burke (no need to read all of this, you can search for Galileo in it, for
example using Netscape's Find command; parts of it may seem a bit unreliable
and/or unreadable); you could also try to find Joseph Dauben's multimedia
Art of Renaissance Science. Its old URL is bang.lanl.gov/video/stv/arshtml/galileo1.html;
let me know if you do find it.
- How did Galileo's discoveries with his telescope contradict Aristotle's
view of the heavens?
- Why were Aristotle's views accepted for so long?
- Which aspects of Galileo's work seemed threatening to the Church, and
why did they seem so?
- Name any periods of pre-paradigmatic science, normal science, and paradigm
shifts involved with Galileo's life.
- Explain how the burying of Newton's alchemy and his unorthodox theology
can be seen as part of a rational reconstruction; explain what the paradigm
shift involved here is, and how this loss of information fits into it.
- List and briefly discuss three things you learned in the class that have
been the most interesting or important to you, and say why.
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Last modified: Sun Nov 23 20:58:13 PST 2003