CS009: Computers and Human Values (Fall 2003)
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Final Exam -- December 16, 2004 -- Blumberg
Introduction: There are two 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 write
an essay interpreting and integrating ideas and perspectives from
several of those texts. 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 how it represents or is indicative of particular
points or arguments made by the author. Your answers needn't be
longer than a paragraph or two, but they should make clear the
significance 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 this exam).
- "The Great Depression certainly did not help matters. In
Looking Forward, Franklin Roosevelt wrote, 'I believe
that after the experience of the last three years, the average
citizen would rather receive a smaller return upon his savings in
return for greater security for the principal, than to experience
for a moment the thrill of the prospect of being a millionaire only
to find the next moment that his fortune, actual or expected, has
withered in his hand because the economic machine has again broken
down." The assumption of New Deal programs -- like Social Security --
was that Americans preferred the 'security' of sustenance to the
'thrill' of finding success. For many years, this was true."
- "The event was notable for many reasons, but one especially is
of interest here. Several times during both matches, Kasparov reported
signs of mind in the machine. In the second tournament, he worried
there might be humans behind the scenes, feeding Deep Blue strategic
- "For whatever we do today in physics -- whether we release
energy processes that ordinarily go on only in the sun, or attempt
to initiate in a test tube the processes of cosmic evolution, or
penetrate with the help of telescopes the cosmic space to a limit of
two and even six billion light years, or build machines for the
production and control of energies unknown in the household of
earthly nature, or attain speeds in atomic accelerators which
approach the speed of light, or produce elements not to be found
in nature, or disperse radioactive particles, created by us
through the use cosmic radiation, on the earth -- we always
handle nature from a point in the universe outside the earth."
- "Because of recent activities on the Internet, some believe
that there is an urgent need to balance the privacy interests of
individuals against the economic interests of online businesses
as well as against the interests of the greater public good -- that
is, to balance the interests of those groups (such as government
agencies and corporations) who claim to have a legitimate need
for information about individuals collected on the Internet against
the needs or rights of those individuals about whom the information
is collected. Others, however, believe that simply using a balancing
scheme based on the tradeoff of interests involving the individual
good versus the larger social good misses an important point because
such a decision procedure fails to take into account the significance
of privacy as a social (as well as an individual) value."
- "Only if one thinks of the subject as an autonomous self
independent of the environment is one likely to experience the
panic performed by Norbert Weiner's Cybernetics and
Bernard Wolfe's Limbo. this view of the self authorizes
the fear that if the boundaries are breached at all, there will
be nothing to stop the self's complete dissolution. By contrast,
when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full
expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend
on the splice rather than being imperiled by it."
- "How then, is any practical relationship established between
what is in people's heads and what is out there beyond their ken
in the environment?
How in the language of democratic theory, do great numbers of
people feeling each so privately about so abstract a picture, develop
any common will? How does a simple and constant idea emerge from
this complex of variables? How are those things known as the Will
of the People, or the National Purpose, or Public Opinion crystallized
out of such fleeting and casual imagery?"
- "A heterogenous society benefits from shared experiences, many
of them produced by the media. These shared experiences provide a
kind of social glue, facilitating efforts to solve shared problems,
encouraging people to view one another as fellow citizens, and
sometimes helping to ensure responsiveness to genuine problems and
needs, even helping to identify them as such."
Part II: Essay (2 hours)
Each of the following topics asks you to consider
the works of several authors, 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 views,
arguments and explanations. Please know that none of
the topics have been formulated to elicit a
"right" or "correct" view or response, and your essay will
be evaluated based on the quality, coherence and
inspiration of your insights and arguments.
- Computing and the Future of the Self: The term
"self" may bring to mind the ego, individuality, personhood,
subjectivity, boundaries and responsibility. This in turn
may inspire some thoughts about psychology, biology, politics,
and technology. These thoughts can easily lead to questions
about whether and to what extent our "self" is something
solid or fluid, something rooted in nature or constructed
in society. In a provocative book published this semester
called Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City,
William J. Mitchell writes:
"Consider, if you will, Me++.
"I consist of a biological core surrounded by extended, constructed
systems of boundaries and networks. These boundary and network structures
are topological and functional duals of each other. The boundaries
define a space of containers and places (the traditional
domain of architecture), while the networks establish a space of
links and flows. Walls, fences, and skins divide; paths, pipes,
and wires connect." (Me++ (MIT Press, 2004), p. 7)
Several of the assigned texts this semester
make arguments about the ways in which computing should
alter our intuitions, senses and certainties concerning
the nature, boundary, and value of the Self. Choose two
(2) authors you believe speak to these issues and, in a
brief essay that interprets each of their views and presents
your own, discuss the future of the concept of the Self
in a digital age.
- Computing and the Future of Education: Although none
of the units of CS9 were devoted to education, and none of the
assigned texts were written about schooling, any discussion
of the relationship between technology and knowledge, politics,
or ethics might be thought to have educational consequences.
Indeed, technology has regularly played an important role in
helping to shape the answers to the question "What is education
(for)?" by different societies at different points in their
Today one hears a great deal about the future of education in
light of the internet. Earlier this week Google announced that
it will digitize, and make available online, the full libraries
of University of Michigan and Stanford as well as archives
from Harvard, Oxford and the New York Public Library; and this
seems a good example of an event with educational consequences
that some think dramatic while others think nil. In their
"Introduction" to a
recent issue of the Journal of Philosophy of Education
devoted to computer technology and its educational consequences,
the editors wrote:
"Nothing is predictable as one explores education on the Net. Huge and exciting potentials open up, alongside aspects that occasion alarm or even horror. Minor innovations take on major significance (word processing perhaps, or the listserv) whilst elaborate technological developments begin to look educationally marginal or trivial (is multimedia as important as e-mail or file transfer? how useful is videoconferencing really?). Some intellectual possibilities seem to close down whilst others open up, ... and the more one thinks about the Internet, the less one seems technologically at its mercy, yet the more locked in conflict with the forces in society who seek to control or promote it."
(Nigel Blake and Paul Standish, Journal of Philosophy of Education, vol. 34, No. 1, 2000, p. 5)
Several of the assigned texts this semester make arguments that, if
taken seriously, could (and perhaps should) influence the nature and
purpose of schooling in the 21st century. Choose two (2) authors
who you believe make such arguments and, in a brief essay
that interprets each of their views and presents your own,
discuss the future of schooling in a digital age. You may focus on
a particular level of schooling (e.g. undergraduate education) or
on schooling generally.
- Computing and the Future of the Public,
the Private, and the Social: Although The Human
Condition may have been your first exposure to someone
reading so much into the Public/Private distinction, it's a
fact that the drawing of lines between public and private for
the purposes of social, political and legal analysis has been
a basic characteristic of Western thought since antiquity. Yet,
just as Arendt called attention to the effects of what she
called the "social" realm on the significance of the public
and the private, so today we wonder whether the effects of new
computer-based communications technologies are altering the
boundaries between the public and the private.
Several of the assigned texts this semester might be thought to
suggest future possibilities and/or perils for distinctions
between: the nature of the public and private realms; the
politics of public life and private life; and the ethics of
"publicity" and "privacy". Choose two (2) authors (in addition
to Arendt) who you believe speak to some of these issues and,
in a brief essay that interprets each of their views and
presents your own, discuss some aspect of the future of
the public/private distinction.
CS9 Required Texts (Fall 2004):
- Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition
(University of Chicago Press, 1958).
- Cherny, Andrei. The Next Deal: The Fate of Public Life in the Information
Age (Basic Books, 2000).
- Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Post-Human (University of Chicago Press, 1999).
- Langford, Duncan (editor). Internet Ethics (St. Martins Press, 2000)
- Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion (Free Press, 1997 ).
- Moravec, Hans. Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence
(Harvard University Press, 1988).
- Sunstein, Cass. republic.com (Princeton University Press, 2001).
Back to the Syllabus
© 2004 Roger B. Blumberg