CSE 190B: Social and Ethical Issues in Information
Technolgy - Winter 2001
- Assignments will normally be posted by Wednesday, due the next Tuesday;
you should check pages frequently for updates.
- Required homework problems will be labelled "(Required)"; all other
homework problems are optional, but will give you extra credit and important
help in preparing for the exams. Optional homework questions count half as
much as required questions.
- Be sure to give the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the date. Do NOT email me a
word document for your homework - homework must be in hardcopy form.
- Homework will not be returned until late in the quarter, if at all; for
feedback on how you are doing, see me after class, or some other time.
- Homework grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to make use of
concepts introduced in the course notes, lectures and readings. Be sure to
answer the question that is asked.
- 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.
- Due 16 January:
- (Required) 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 example.
- Write at least one page (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
easiest, 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 23 January:
- (Required) 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. If
possible, you should also include the larger text from which the quotation
- 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 30 January:
- (Required) 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 to
analyze your ethical arguments.
- Counting is about the simplest scientific procedure that one can imagine,
and so one might think that 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
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, and a background
of deeply ethical problems. I have collected some material in a webpage, Counting in Florida; the content of
the essays and links there goes far beyond what appeared in our local
newspaper, or even the national papers. Comment on some one incident in the
Florida recount that you think illustrates the intertwining of technical,
social, and ethical issues particularly well. (Note: Many of the URLs given
there are probably dead by now.)
- Due 6 February:
- (Required) 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
are feeling ambitious). Describe any particular difficulties that arise in
- Due 13 February:
- (Required) The following questions concern the paper How things (actor-net)work: Classification, magic and the
ubiquity of standards, by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star;
these questions may not be specifically answered in the paper, but are (I
claim) at least implicitly answered. Write at least one short paragraph on
- What does "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".
- What happens to cases that don't fit? Why is this important?
- What criticisms does this paper make (usually stated quite mildly) of
- 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.
- Due 20 February:
- (Required) Write correct answers to all questions on the midterm (unless you are sure that your exam answer was correct).
See my discussion of the midtern on the readings
page, for 20 February.
- 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 diagrams "sociograms".
- Due 27 February:
- (Required) Give two examples of convergence, and explain why they
- (Required) Paraphrase and comment on Douglass North's definition
of "institution," and give an example related to the internet. Where does
ethics come into North's definition?
- Ted Lewis's Alice in
Wired World was written in 1996. Find at least two predictions (or
almost predictions) he made that turned out to be wrong; then find one more
prediction and discuss whether or not it is wrong. Also discuss whether or
not he is guilty of technological determinism in this piece and/or in the Preface to
his book The Friction-Free Economy (verdicts like "half guilty" or ".7
guilty", etc. are also valid for this purpose). See also the excerpt from and some advertising for the book.
- Due 6 March:
- (Required) Comment on ethical aspects of 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
- (Required) 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
- Comment on the use of supply and demand in the Interview on Quality of Service with
Andrew Odlyzko by Dan Tebbutt.
- Due 13 March:
- (Required) 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
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Last modified: Sun Mar 25 18:40:26 PST 2001