CS009: Computers and Human Values (Fall 2005)
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Final Exam II -- December 15, 2005 -- 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 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 five (5) 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
- "Why did he go wrong? Why did his greatest disciple, Lenin, go wrong? Because Marxian thought that men.s economic position would irresistibly produce a clear conception of their economic interests.The event has shown, not only that a clear conception of interest does not arise automatically in everyone.."
- "In the government's view, technology promises to change the rules of daily life, making electronic privacy so secure that even the FBI won't be able to listen in."
- "In an environment of transparency. the average citizen's freedom will not be enhanced by maintaining a private right to secrete, plot, and ultimately conspire against his or her neighbors. Such a right will not enhance the average person.s freedom for one simple reason: the rich and powerful are sure to be far, far better at exploiting that right than little people ever will be, any time, any place."
- "In the next millennium, we will find that we are talking as
much or more with machines than we are with humans. What
seems to trouble people most is their own self-consciousness
about talking to inanimate objects. We are perfectly
comfortable talking to dogs and canaries, but not doorknobs or
lamp-posts (unless you are totally drunk). Wouldn't I feel stupid
talking to a toaster? Probably no more so than you used to feel
talking to an answering machine."
- "The tragedy is that the problems that cannot be precisely characterized and neatly solved happen to be the most important ones: communication, understanding, collaboration, negotiation. Love."
- "For a long time, as I have said, the strong feudal habits of subordination and deference continued to tell upon the working class. The modern spirit has now almost entirely dissolved those habits, and the anarchical tendency of our worship of freedom in and for itself, of our superstitious faith, as I say, in machinery, is becoming very manifest. More and more, because of this our blind faith in machinery, because of our want of light to enable us to look beyond machinery to the end for which machinery is valuable, this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman's right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes."
- "Industrialization built up the centralized forces of the economy while
breaking apart bonds of what had once been thought of as community. Today
the Information Age is challenging large entities, and with them, what we
have long thought of as marking community. Yet, like industrialization, the
present changes in the economy and society present the duty to rethink
community for our own time."
Part II: 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 the Value of Choice: Although writers
since Plato have called our attention to the possibility that
true freedom is a matter of reason and knowledge rather than
choice, most people find the equation of freedom and choice
obvious and compelling. The rise of personal computing in the
1980s, and computer networks like the Internet in the 1990s,
brought with them dozens if not hundreds of works that proclaimed
the new degrees of personal freedom that a digital age would
make possible. Whether in books like The Children's
Machine (by Seymour Papert), or slogans like "Where Do
You Want to Go Today?" (from Microsoft), the assumption that
digital technology can promote personal freedom is widespread,
and the basic justification for such a claim is that it
facilitates more "choice". Choose two (2) authors you believe
speak to the issue of choice in a digital age and, in a brief
essay that interprets each of their views and presents your
own, discuss the relationship between computers and the
(e)valuation of choice (present, past and/or future).
- Computers and "Busyness": A recent issue of the journal
Social Research (Summer 2005) was devoted to the
theme of "Busyness". Topics include the relationship between
busyness and social standing, busyness and citizenship, as well
as historical and sociological analyses of how/why different populations
consider themselves busier even as they report spending less time
working! In the first of the articles, "A Right to Be Lazy? Busyness
in Retrospect," Gary Cross writes:
Busyness ultimately is driven by the possibility of cramming more
into a day. Technology speeds up all work and shortens production and
sales cycles. The result is the acceleration of our encounters with goods,
leaving us with half (or quickly) eaten encounters with things; they are
merely tasted. The culmination, of course, is contemporary multitasking
on computers, where we break the "brackets" that once kept work
and leisure apart. The computer has transformed the experience of
time. It has created the 24/7 culture where markets and entertainment
are available at any time. If the nineteenth-century train and twentieth-
century car annihilated time (and space), the computer certainly
completed the process by moving information at the speed of electrons.
The computer's capacity for multitasking encourages users to expect to
do more than one activity at a time. The computer's speed creates pressures
to accelerate the pace of life."
"Technology," writes the editor of the volume, Arien Mack, " is often
cited as having contributed to an 'explosion of busyness'."
Choose two (2) authors you believe speak to the relationship between
computers and busyness, either directly or indirectly, and, in a brief
essay that interprets each of their views and presents your own,
discuss the relationship between computers and the (subjective)
perception of busyness.
- 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
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