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 this exam.)

  1. "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.."

  2. "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."

  3. "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."

  4. "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."

  5. "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."

  6. "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."

  7. "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 and arguments.

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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 human values.

CS9 Required Texts (Fall 2005):

Back to the Syllabus

© 2005 Roger B. Blumberg