CPSC 430 – June 25, 2010

I’m currently taking CPSC 430 and one of the requirements is to keep a journal throughout the term.  I will be blogging here my class notes, thoughts, and links as they come up that are relevant to the course material.

CPSC 430 entitled “Computers and Society” isn’t a typical computer science course which involves programming or mathematics.  In fact, I don’t think there is any programming involved at all.  It resembles a TOK class I had in high school in the way that theories and controversial ideas are brought up and discussed and debated.

The course description from the course site is as follows:

Some days we seem to forget that we run the computers, and not the other way around. We write the programs, we run the programs. Yet somehow there is a general sense in society that we are all held prisoner to the perpetual march of the computers. That technology has us at its disposal, and it will take us where it wants to go; that we are powerless to stop it. Is that really how we want our relationship with computers to be?

It is our responsibility, particularly as computer scientists, to think about this very question. Computers have brought many wonderful things to society; they have also brought many horrible things, or at least made it far easier to do some horrible things. Does the good outweigh the bad? Does it matter? Some people paint grim visions of the future in which computers invariably rule. But the reality is, we’re still on the other side of the power button– how can we ensure a lasting, beneficial relationship between computers and society? That’s what we’re here to explore. Hopefully, over the course of this semester, you’ll encounter some really tough questions that truly challenge you think about what you think is right. Through addressing these issues, we also hope you will come away with a deeper respect and admiration not only for the computer and the society in which it resides, but for the computer scientist, too.

One of the first things that was brought up in the lectures was the ACM Code of Ethics.  Other disciplines such as medicine and engineering have their own code of ethics too, but the ACM Code of Ethics sticks out.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to enforce this over all computer scientists, only over the ACM members.  This contrasts from the other disciplines where members must join in order to have the credentials to work, and violating the code of ethics would mean having their membership revoked, and essentially no license to work.  Personally I have never known of the ACM Code of Ethics until this course.

Towards the end of the first week we were introduced to many ethical theories, some of which were not workable in the sense that they cannot uphold reasonable arguments.  These included subjective relativism, cultural relativism, and divine command theory.

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