Computers and Human Values (CS009-01)
A First-Year Seminar at Brown University
Department of Computer Science, Fall 2005
Roger B. Blumberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last and Final Update: December 15, 2005
Course Outline: Fall 2005 || Fall 2004 Course Materials || CS009 Reference Page || Fall 2004 Final Exam
One of the most fascinating aspects of technological innovation is the way
it can transform not only the lives and practices of individuals and
institutions, but also accepted ways of thinking about and evaluating those
lives and practices. Simple examples are e-mail's effects on our
ideas about about communication, computer networks' effects on our ideas
about commerce and politics, and desktop computing's effect on our ideas
about work. Indeed, for those who grow up after these transformations have
taken place, the older languages or standards for evaluation may seem
antiquated, ridiculous, or even incomprehensible.
In this course we will read and discuss contemporary works motivated by recent
developments in computer science (e.g. in robotics, networks, and computer
security) and will find that each of these book raises fundamental questions
not only about the future of computing, but the future of societies and
human beings as well. Although the technological developments that prompt
these questions may be new, the questions themselves are not -- most have
been debated and written about by students and scholars for hundreds if
not thousands of years. Therefore, in addition to the contemporary visions
we will read and discuss texts from a "pre-digital" age that raise
(and answer) the same questions in different ways. We'll conclude each
unit of the course with a second contemporary reading, and see whether/how
our attitudes about either the questions or the answers have changed in
light of having tied these contemporary works to a historical or
Every student in the Seminar is required to read and contribute to our
discussions of the texts. During the semester each student will present the
required reading in class at least once, take class notes for the group at
least once, and report on current debates/discussions in the professional
literature at least once. In addition, a short paper that summarizes your
response to the texts and your own answer(s) to the unit's fundamental
question(s) will be due at the conclusion of each unit (i.e. three short
papers are required). In addition, each student is required to read a
book from the Secondary Reading lists, with a partner, and present an
analysis either in class or in writing, before December 1. Finally,
there will be a three-hour final exam.
All of the required texts are available at the Symposium Bookstore, 240
Westminster Street (downtown), and they (along with a number of
secondary readings) will be on reserve in the
This syllabus will serve as a link to electronic texts, both required and
recommended, as well as course notes, once the semester is underway.
Where and When:
CS009 will meet in 506 CIT, in the Computer Science Department, on
Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 - 11:50 a.m. My office is 335 CIT and
though I'm in most days, morning and afternoon, my official office hours
for the course are Tuesday and Thursday, from 1:30 - 2:30 p.m. My office
phone number is x37619 and I can be reached easily by e-mail at
Part One | Part Two | Part Three
Part One: The Human and the Post-Human;
or, The Triumph of Robotics and the Nature of Our Humanity.
September 6th - October 11th
September 6 & 8: Introduction
to the Seminar. Why a First-Year Seminar about computers and "values"?
Why think computers have any more impact on what we value and how we
value it than refrigerators? Why mix readings new and old? Why so
Assignment: Begin reading Hans Moravec's ROBOT:
Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (through chapter 2 for Thursday,
and through at least chapter 5 for 9/13.
September 13: Moravec I: Is Moravec's "mind" recognizable?.
Moravec II. Intelligence, the Turing test, Robopets, and the
measure of Human abilities, achievements, and needs.
Assignment: Finish ROBOT, and begin Matthew
Arnold's Culture and Anarchy
Moravec III. The "Age of Robots" and the "Age of Mind." We'll finish
our discussion of Moravec with guest Chad Jenkins.
Assignment: Write a response to at least one of the Robopet
postings, and read at least the Introduction and "Sweetness and
Light" in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy.
Arnold I: Robots, Humans and the Issue of Culture.
Assignment: Read at least through chapter 3 of Culture
Culture and Anarchy II Sweetness and Light, and the
etymology of "culture".
Assignment: Finish Culture and Anarchy, and with
a partner write a short dramatic dialogue between Moravec and Arnold
on some issue/question that interests you (both), to be posted to
the WebCT discussion board by the end of the day on Friday..
Culture and Anarchy III. Culture as Extraordinary vs.
Culture as Ordinary, and Arnold's critique of 19th century and
Assignment: Begin reading Michael Chorost's Rebuilt: How Becoming
Part Computer Made Me More Human. Michael will be here next week
and will be joining us on Thursday in class.
October 4: Rosh Hashannah, Ramadan, and The
Post-Human Condition: How's that for a title?
Assignment: Finish reading Chorost's Rebuilt.
Rebuilt I: The Significance of the Cyborg
Assignment: Read excerpts from Lyotard's The Postmodern
Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), and Hayle's
How We Became Posthuman (1999).
October 11: Rebuilt II.
Assignment: Begin reading Nichloas Negroponte's
Required Texts for Part One:
- Moravec, Hans. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
- Chorost, Michael. Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (Houghton Mifflin and Company, 2005).
- Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958)
- Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot (Doubleday, 1950)
- Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake (Doubleday, 2003)
- Boden, Margaret (editor). The Philosophy of
Artificial Intelligence (Oxford University Press, 1990)
- Black, Michael. "Connecting Brains with Machines".Invited talk, AI Lab, MIT, October 2002.
- Brooks, Rodney. Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us
- Coupland, Douglas. Microserfs (Reganbooks, 1995)
- Dean, Tom. Talking with Computers (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
- Fukuyama, Francis. Our Posthuman Future
- Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Post-Human (University of ChicagoPress, 1999).
- Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines
- Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition
(University of Minnesota Press, 1984)
- Mack, Arien (ed.). Technology and the Rest of Culture
(Ohio State University Press, 2001) (Note: this book contains essays originally published in the Fall 1997 issue of
Social Research, available electronically at Brown.)
- Moravec, Hans. Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence
(Harvard University Press, 1988)
- Muller, Jerry Z. Conservatism : an anthology of social and political thought from David Hume to the present (Princeton University Press, 1997)
- Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Knopf, 1992)
- Powers, Richard. Galatea 2.2 (Perennial Press, 1996)
- Wright, David. Deafness (Stein and Day, 1969)
Part Two: How Should We Live?; or Where Do You Want to Go Today?
October 11th - November 10th
October 13: Being Digital I.
Assignment: Finish Negroponte's Being Digital.
October 18: Being Digital II
October 20: Being Digital III
Assignment: Begin Karl Marx' Communist Manifesto
October 25: Marx's
Technology and Ours
Assignment: Finish Karl Marx' Communist Manifesto
Marx II. The Prolitarians and the Communists in an Industrial
Age, and in a Digital Age.
Assignment: Prepare and post (to WebCT) a Marxian "reading"
of one of the stories in Risks (The ACM Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems).
Marx III. Reading Marx During the Cold
War and reading Marx in 2005.
Assignment: Begin reading David Brin's The Transparent
Technology, Privacy and Freedom.
Assignment: Read at least through Part II of Brin's
The Transparent Society, as well as the Warren &
Brandeis article "The Right to Privacy" (1890).
November 8: Minefields in
"The Transparent Society"
Assignment: Finish Brin and post topics for the second paper
to WebCt by Monday the 14th.
Evaluating The Transparent
Society, the "Singapore Question", and the Negroponte-Marx-
Brin rollercoaster ride.
Assignment: Begin Andrei Cherney's The Next Deal. Andrei will be joining our listserv as we read and discuss his book, so feel free to post questions as you read.
Required Texts for Part Two:
- Brin, David. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (Perseus Book, 1999)
- Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition (Verso, 1998)
- Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital: (Vintage, 1996).
- Ash, Timothy Garton. The File: A Personal History (Random House, 1997)
- Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine (Little Brown, 1981).
- Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture:How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (Penguin, 2004).
Electronic version at http://www.free-culture.cc/.
- Lessig, Lawrence. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (Random House, 2001).
- Negroponte, Nicholas. "Beyond Digital" Wired, December 1998.
- Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom (Knopf, 1999).
- Tobey, Ronald C. Technology As Freedom: The New Deal and the Electrical Modernization of the American Home (University of California Press, 1996)
- Smith, Merritt Roe, and Marx Leo (eds). Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism (MIT Press, 1994).
- Tucker, Robert C. (ed.) The Marx-Engels Reader (Norton, 1978)
- Wilson, Edmund. To The Finland Station: a study in the writing and acting of history (Doubleday, 1940).
Part Three: Technology and Democracy
November 15th - December
November 15: Cherny's "Next Deal"
Assignment: Finish The Next Deal.
November 17: Cherny II: Technology, Politics and
Individualism Old & New.
Assignment: Read Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion,
Lippmann I: The World of Public Opinion.
Assignment: Read parts 4-8 of Public Opinion.
Lippmann II: Democracy, "old" Media, and "The End of News?"
Assignment: Finish Public Opinion, if you've not
already done so, and begin Sunstein's republic.com.
December 1: Lippmann III: Our World and
Assignment: Read Sunstein's republic.com.
December 6: Sunstein I: The Digital, the "Daily Me", and the Requirements of a Healthy Democracy.
Assignment: Read Chapters 5-9 and the "Afterward" in
December 8: Sunstein II:
The Future of Public Life
and Public Opinion.
December 14th (Wednesday): The Final Exam.
December 15th (Thursday): The Other Final Exam
Required Texts for Part Three:
- Cherny, Andrei. The Next Deal: The Fate of Public Life in the Information Age (Basic Books, 2000).
- Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion (Free Press, 1997 ).
- Sunstein, Cass. republic.com (Princeton University Press, 2001).
- Castells, Manuel. The Rise Of The Network Society (Blackwell, 1996)
- DeToqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America (Knopf, 1994 ).
- Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems (Holt, 1927)
- Goodlad, Stephen John (ed). The Last Best Hope: A Democracy Reader (Jossey-Bass, 2001)
- Gray, Chris Hables. Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the
Posthuman Age (Routledge, 2001)
- Hague, Barry and Loader, Brian (editors). Digital Democracy: Discourse and Decision Making in the Information Age (Routledge, 1999).
- Sunstein, Cass. Echo Chambers: Bush v. Gore, Impeachment, and Beyond (Princeton Digital Books Plus, 2001).Available as a PDF document at:
- Virilio, Paul. The Information Bomb (Verso, 2000).
© 2005 Roger B. Blumberg and Brown University