Computing and Its Consequences (HPSS S689)
The Rhode Island School of Design, Wintersession 2007
Final Exam -- February 17-18, 2007 -- Roger B. Blumberg

http://www.cs.brown.edu/~rbb/risd/s689.final.html

The purpose of this exam is to have you bring together some of your thoughts about the semester's readings, the discussions we've had, and the ideas you've written about in your papers, in the context of an interpretation and analysis of particular questions and themes concerning the personal, social, economic and political consequences of computers/computing.

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. The second part asks you to write an essay based on the essays in at least one section of the Information Society Reader.

This exam is only slightly different than the one I would have given in a 3-hour block, had we been able to schedule something in-class. I would still (and strongly) prefer that you complete Part One is approximately an hour, and the essay in approximately two hours.

The exam is due by noon (EST) on Sunday, February 18th.

Part One: Identification and Explication

For any four (4) of the quotations given below, identify the author 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 of the passage by relating it to one or more of the major themes in the text and/or the course as a whole. You need not repeat the entire quotation in your explication and can refer to it simply by number if you wish.

  1. "Cyborgs are even more fallen than most. But that is a cause for hope rather than despair, because giving up the search for the Garden liberates us to build gardens -- no-caps, plural."

  2. "This special property of digital computers, that they can mimic any discrete-state machine, is described by saying that they are universal machines. The existence of machines with this property has the important consequence that, considerations of speed apart, it is unnecessary to design various new machines to do various computing processes. They can all be done with one digital computer, suitably programmed for each case. It 'ill be seen that as a consequence of this all digital computers are in a sense equivalent."

  3. "In industrial society there are three main types of social problems: recession-induced unemployment, wars resulting from international conflict, and the dictatorships of fascism. The problems of information society will be future shocks caused by the inability of people to respond smoothly to rapid societal transformation, acts of individual and group terrorists such as hijackings, invasions of individual privacy and the crisis of a controlled society."

  4. "Chronicling the revolution, that machine-centered history reinforces the hype and with it what one might call the 'impact theory' of the relation of technology and society. There is society strolling along, minding its own business, and, wham!, it gets impacted and is left reeling by a revolutionary technology, which changes everything overnight or in some similarly short time."

  5. "Looked at this way, having avoided a future where I might have poisoned, or at least terrified, an entire town in Connecticut, I was rather glad not to have become the food-irradiation heiress. But I couldn't say that."

  6. "But now, Shannon gave the word a special technical definition that divorced it from its common-sense usage. In his theory, information is no longer connected with the semantic content of statements."

  7. "Few, if any, of IBM's customers clamored for electronic versions of their electrical and electromechanical accounting equipment. Rather, that demand had to be created by devising applications for the computer in the realms of finance, management, and communications. Those applications and the machines needed to implement them meant keeping pace with scientific and technological development, which in turn meant closer and more open ties between industrial research institutions and the rapidly expanding scientific community in the universities and at now permanent government installations. Dependent in turn on the computer industry for funding and for technical support, academic computer science took shape partly in response to corporately defined research needs. From the outset, the careers of computer people show a characteristic pattern of regular and easy movement between campus, industry, and government facilities."

Part Two: Essay

The following essay topics are designed to elicit your thoughts about computing and its consequences. Choose one (1) of the topics, and write an essay that communicates your thoughts as clearly as possible, while drawing on specific examples and/or arguments from the texts you've read in The Information Society Reader. You may of course make reference to other texts as well, though you are not required to do so. Please know that none of the topics has 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, arguments, and readings of the texts you discuss.