CS009: Computers and Human Values (Fall 2005)
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Final Exam -- December 14, 2005 -- Blumberg
Introduction: There are three parts to this exam. The first
asks you to identify several passages, each drawn from the texts
we've read and discussed this semester. The second asks you to
suggest a passage that was not used in Part One, but which would
have made for a challenging and important choice. The third part
asks you to write
an essay interpreting and integrating ideas and perspectives from
several of the texts we read this semester.
The purpose of the exam is to have you: 1) reflect on the entire
semester's work; 2)demonstrate your understanding of the texts; and
3) offer your own perspective on some of the many questions and
issues we've discussed this semester.
Part I: Identification and Explication (1 hour)
For any four (4) of the quotations given below, identify the
author who wrote it, and the text in which it appears. Then briefly
explain whether/how it represents or is indicative of particular
positions taken or arguments made by the author. Your answer
needn't be longer than a paragraph or two, but it should
make clear the significance (or insignificance) of the passage
by relating it to one or more of the major themes in the text
and/or the Unit of the course in which the text was assigned.
(A complete list of assigned texts can be found at the end of
- "The more untrained a mind, the more readily it works out a
theory that two things which catch its attention at the same time
are causally connected."
- "E-mail is a lifestyle that impacts the way we work and think.
One very specific result is that the rhythm of work and play changes.
Nine-to-five, five days a week, and two weeks off a year starts
to evaporate as the dominant beat to business life. Professional
and personal messages start to comingle; Sunday is not so different
- "All old-established national industries have been destroyed
or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries,
whose introductions becomes a life and death question for all
civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous
raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones;
industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but
in every quarter of the globe. In place of old wants, satisfied
by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring
for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes."
- "Ponder an image of everyone sauntering down the street with
one of these 'weapons' on their hips. Naturally, one result is a
near absence of street crime -- that is a given. But what about
the price? To many folks, the first picture that leaps to mind
will be of a nosy place, snooty and provocative, with
everyone shoving lenses toward one another at the slightest
cause, real or imagined."
- "As they learn to shape their interior and exterior essences
at will, our descendents will transcend paddles to navigate the
alternative worlds in in powerful ships. Where they go, what they
see, and who they become is not ours to guess."
- "It is the same fashion of teaching a man to value himself not
on what he is, not on his progress in sweetness and light, but on the
number of the railroads he has constructed, or the bigness of the
tabernacle he has built. Only the middle classes are told they have done
it all with their energy, self-reliance, and capital, and the democracy
are told they have done it all with their hands and sinews. But teaching
the democracy to put its trust in achievements of this kind is merely
training them to be Philistines to take the place of the Philistines
whom they are superseding; and they too, like the middle class, will be
encouraged to sit down at the banquet of the future without having on a
wedding garment, and nothing excellent can then come from them."
- "During the twentieth century, Americans had to content themselves
with perfecting and providing access to one form of democracy .... But
democracy can be much more than this. The Information Age is fundamentally
about democratization -- about power to the people."
- "Freedom consists not simply in preference satisfaction but also
in the chance to have preferences and beliefs formed under decent
- "Which makes the cyborg a figure of hope, Haraway argues, because
it is inherently immune to the lie of Eden. Viewing the universe from
multiple perspectives makes it more able to resist ideologies that claim
that their way of viewing reality is the only one. Cyborgs are even more
fallen than most. But that is cause for hope rather than despair, because
giving up the search for the Garden liberates us to build gardens
-- no caps, plural."
Part II: Creating Tomorrow's Exam (Today)
As you know, tomorrow Ross and Jesse will take the final exam, and it
will be entirely different in detail but nearly the same as far as
what they will be asked to do. In this section, please suggest a
passage (not presented above) that you think would make a challenging
and interesting quotation for the first part of their exams, and
then propose an essay topic of the form "Computers and _________"
(different from those below) that you would like included in the
essay section of on their exams. I hope to create their exams entirely
from your suggestions/proposals.
Part III: Essay (2 hours)
Each of the following topics asks you to consider
the works of two or more authors we've read this semester, and
to synthesize their perspectives and your own into a persuasive
essay Choose one (1) of the topics, and write an essay
that communicates your thoughts as clearly as possible, while
drawing on specific examples from the texts we've read this
semester to support your arguments and explanations. Please
know that none of the topics have been formulated to elicit a
"right" view or response, and your essay will be evaluated based on
the quality, coherence and inspiration of your insights
- Computers and Community: The etymology of the word
"community" points both to the notion of "commonality" (e.g.
common interests and experience) and common-ness (i.e. ordinary
people or commoners, as opposed to members of a privileged class).
At the same time, discussions of "community" in the United States
have, for more than a century, recognized tensions between promoting
individual and social well-being. In this context, some writers
have seen in democracy a unique system for maximizing the good of both
the individual and the community. In 1892, in his great essay
Democratic Vistas (which I now wish I had assigned instead
of Lippmann, but never mind...), Walt Whitman wrote:
"We do not, (at any rate I do not,) put it either on the ground that
the People, the masses, even the best of them, are, in their latent or
exhibited qualities, essentially sensible and good -- nor on the ground of
their rights; but that good or bad, rights or no rights, the democratic
formula is the only safe and preservative one for coming times. We endow
the masses with the suffrage for their own sake, no doubt; then, perhaps
still more, from another point of view, for community's sake. Leaving the
rest to the sentimentalists, we present freedom as sufficient in its
scientific aspect, cold as ice, reasoning, deductive, clear and
passionless as crystal." (Democratic Vistas, paragraph 36)
The popular rise of personal computers in the 1980s, and of computer
networks like the Internet in the 1990s, has inspired dozens if not
hundreds of books that discuss the possible and probable impact
of computers on community/communities, not to mention the
future relationship between personal and civic life. Choose
two (2) authors you believe speak to aspects of community (past,
present or future) and, in a brief essay that interprets each
of their views and presents your own, discuss the future
of community in an age of computers.
- Computers and "Human Nature": In our discussion of the
second set of essays, we talked a bit about appeals to "human nature"
and how much controversy they inspire. Questions about what we
know about human nature, what we can know about it, and
whether such knowledge should be considered a form of essential
description or just a statistical generalisation (that, like an average,
may not apply to any particular individual), have all inspired
endless analysis and debate. Consider the following quotations, for
example, from a most unlikely quartet:
"Human nature will not change." Abraham Lincoln (1864)
"Human nature is above all things -- lazy." Harriet Beecher Stowe (1864)
"The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV was that he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result." Oscar Wilde (1891)
"Human nature is a scoundrel's favorite explanation." Mason Cooley (1990)
Choose two (2) authors you believe speak to aspects of and questions
about human nature (what it is, what it isn't and how we should regard
the idea today) and, in a brief essay that interprets each
of their views and presents your own, discuss the question of what, if
anything, technology teaches us about human nature.
- Computers, Refrigerators and Human Values: At the
beginning of the semester, you were asked the (rhetorical)
question: Why a course on computers and human values,
as opposed to a course on refrigerators and human
values? And, as you have heard over and over (and over) again,
one of the goals of CS9 is to make the argument, through
a selection of texts, issues and discussions, that computing
has forced us to rethink our most
basic understandings of who we are, how we should live,
and what we can/should hope for in the future (in ways that
the technology of refrigeration has not).
But alas, the semester is over, and now seems a good time to
assess that argument. Choose two (2) authors you believe either support
or undermine the argument that computing has had such an
enormous impact on our fundamental understandings and values.
Then, in a brief essay that interprets each of their views and
presents your own, discuss the relationship between computing and
- Computers and "The Educated Mind": In his 1997 book,
The Educated Mind, Kieran Egan argued that three
goals or purposes dominate our approach to education: 1) to
create good citizens with sound social skills and values; 2) to
facilitate the mastery of bodies of important knowledge; and 3)
to promote the development and fulfillment of each student's
(unique) potential. He also argued that these three goals are
incompatible,and lead to conflict at all levels of schooling.
Meanwhile, the computer, and computer networks like the
Internet, have been embraced by a number of educators, who
see in their possible educational uses a chance for better,
more personalized educational experiences, as well as ways
to avoid the sorts of conflicts to which Egan's cross-purposes
draw our attention. Choose two (2) authors you believe speak to
issues with important educational consequences and, in a brief
essay that interprets each of their views and presents your own,
discuss the question of what our idea of "an educated mind"
is and should be in an information/digital age.
CS9 Required Texts (Fall 2005):
- Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy (1869)
- Brin, David. The Transparent Society (1998)
- Cherny, Andrei. The Next Deal: The Fate of Public Life in the
Information Age (2000).
- Chorost, Michael. REBUILT: How Becoming Part Computer Made
Me More Human (2005)
- Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion (1922).
- Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto (1872)
- Moravec, Hans. ROBOT: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (1999)
- Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital (1995)
- Sunstein, Cass. republic.com (2001).
Back to the Syllabus
© 2005 Roger B. Blumberg