CSE 190 / The Environmental Impact of Modern Computing / Spring 2021

Course Overview

Computing underpins much of modern life. Traditional devices such as laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets are now joined by compute-enabled smart cars, appliances, and the so-called "Internet of Things." Increasingly, these devices are enabled by cloud computing, hosted in large-scale Internet datacenters. The cloud hosts social media, entertainment, telepresence, and video and audio conferencing. Furthermore, cloud-hosted "AI" and "ML" have the potential to reinvent many traditional industries such as travel and logistics.

In this class, we will take a critical look at the 360-degree impact of modern computing technologies on the environment, asking the following questions:

In this course, we will read and discuss books and articles on these topics, interspersed with guest speakers who have unique insights into the technological, scientific, and policy making aspects of environmental computing impact. In addition to actively participating in class discussion, students will undertake a substantial research project (in groups of 2-3 students) to investigate some aspect of the environmental impact of computing, culminating in a research paper and content (most likely a 5 minute video) aimed at educating the public on the project's topic. While your project could involve writing code, this course is not a programming class and no experience writing code or knowing how to program is necessary to enroll and participate!

Guest lectures

Reading list

Teaching staff


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