Course Information

As you make your way through graduate school, have you ever wondered what it is all for, why we do the things we do? If so, you are not alone. Questions like this arise for many (most) of us, but are rarely discussed, or even given the legitimacy they deserve. Education would, ideally, encourage critical thinking, questions and dialogue, help us challenge ourselves and reach out of our comfort zones, and have truth as our goal. Yet it sometimes feels that modern education, instead, leans to creating excellence and expertise that is narrow, conformist and isolating. The result is that how our work relates to the world or what makes the world as it is, remains invisible. In part, as we will see, this is by design.

This class explores the broader context for the technical work that we do, as computer scientists in general and as cryptographers in particular. We will learn to look at the world differently, to see how things really work. We will strive to see the invisible, the hidden forces that shape us and the cultures that surround us. We will challenge the usual answers to the question of why we do what we do. We will begin broadly, and then, as we develop our critical thinking muscle, start to apply this to the science and technology that we study, looking at academic research in fresh ways.

Course requirements are reading some books and shorter articles, perhaps watching some videos or movies, and participating in discussions. They may include leading discussion on some reading and writing short opinions on readings. It is suggeseted that, if possible, the class be taken P/NP rather than for a letter grade.

"I don't have time for this soft stuff," you may say. "I have important research to do. I have deadlines to meet." I suggest that your effectiveness at the tasks you consider central, and your motivation for them, will benefit from this class. And the readings can be done at times you are not inclinded to put into other activities. Join us! It may be fun.