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 this exam.)

  1. "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."

  2. "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 from Monday."

  3. "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."

  4. "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."

  5. "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."

  6. "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."

  7. "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."

  8. "Freedom consists not simply in preference satisfaction but also in the chance to have preferences and beliefs formed under decent conditions ...."

  9. "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 and arguments.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  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.

  4. 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):

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© 2005 Roger B. Blumberg