CSE 175: Social and Ethical Issues in Information Technology
Course Outline

Note: The numbers on topics do not correspond to weeks, and the outline is subject to change as the course develops.

1. Introduction: motivation and issues. Our civilization is deeply involved with technology, and recently, especially with information technology; therefore so are all of us. But do we understand what is happening? Or its ethical implications?

2. Technological determinism. This is the (false!) theory that technology is an autonomous force that necessarily changes society. Social determinism, reductionism, holism, emergentism, and media determinism.

3. Cause and Effect. Causality, the form of physical laws, eco-systems, co-emergence, and more on reductionism. Also narratology, anthropomorphism, and some guidelines for and examples of research on social issues.

4. Inseparability of the Technical, the Social, and the Ethical. Social issues permeate technology, and values permeate social life, including technology. Social and ethical issues in workplaces, marketplaces, standards, and systems design; requirements engineering as reconciling social and ethical issues with technology.

5. Values and Ethics. Values vs. ethics; descriptive vs. normative. UCSD student ethics policy documents. Theories of ethics: absolutism, relativism, consequentialism, utilitarianism, deonotology and Kant; recent approaches based on socio-biology and cognitive science. Professional codes of ethics.

6. Social Theories of Science and Technology. The actor-network theory (ANT) of Latour and Callon: actors (both human and nonhuman), networks, mobilization, delegation, boundary objects; translations and value flows along edges. The "science wars," especially Sokal's hoax.

7. Some Case Studies. Law's review of four case studies, including technology transfer. The Bowker-Star augmentation of ANT with infrastructural inversion, classifications, and standards; a case study on nursing. DBs in healthcare and other organizations. Information technology for developing countries.

8. The Net, the Web and Economics. Convergence. Adam Smith's free market; neo-classical economics; perfect information and privacy. Supply and demand, Keynesian economics, diminishing and increasing returns, commodity. Disintermediation and reintermediation. Internet quality of service. Ecash and microcash; security vs. risk. Open source software, Linux, and their value systems.

9. History and Philosophy of Science. The Cartesian subject-object split and objectivity. Scientific method; falsifiability. Kuhnian paradigms and paradigm shifts. The myth of progress. The role of statistics; problems with statistical testing; statistics and causality. Note: This link takes you to a page on the CSE 275 website, so you will need to be careful about returning to the CSE 175 website when you are done reading it.

10. Various Examples. Medical informatics, medical databases, privacy of patient records. Ethics of bioinformatics, genomics, cloning, gene manipulation; safety of medical devices. Spam, chatrooms, and ecommerce regulation. Privacy: ubiquitious computing, data protection standards, cookies.

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Last modified: Mon Dec 1 16:13:14 PST 2003