CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, November 10th -- Roger B. Blumberg

The Transparent Society III

Introduction: CHV So Far

We'll begin with an overview of the issues the course was meant to address so far, and what our focus will be in the third, and final, unit of the Seminar. In general, Computers and Human Values is meant to address the ways that technology generally, and computing especially, has changed the ways we think about:

With the conclusion of our discussion of Brin's The Transparent Society we will finish the examination of "society" (per se). As the details of the Brin book seem to have gone over like a led balloon, it might be worthwhile to discuss how the texts by Negroponte, Marx and Brin each address questions of freedom in society: what "true" freedom consists in; what role social structures and institutions can/ should play in securing it; and how the formulation and/or protection of "rights" by governments can/should evolve in the face of advancing technological possibilities.

In the final unit of the course, we'll as these questions not of "freedom" but of "democracy". For now, however, we'll consider which of the texts in the second unit address the nature and future of freedom most clearly for each of us.

The Value of Privacy in an "Information Age"

"Humans in a secularized epoch see not only different things but see them differently than one who can say panta plere theon (everything is full of gods) or who invites a stranger to his kitchen because there, too, do gods dwell." Jan Patocka, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, (1975).

"The trouble with modern theories of behaviorism is not that they are wrong but that they could become true, that they actually are the best possible conceptualization of certain obvious trends in modern society. It is quite conceivable that the modern age -- which began with such an unprecedented and promising outburst of human activity -- may end in the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever known." Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (1958).

We obviously see not only different things than the New Englanders of 1890, but we see them differently, and one of the questions that should motivate thinking about Brin (and the second paper) is how digital information and computer networks have/should condition the way we think about what we value in society generally, and in the right to privacy in particular.

For Next Week:: Post the topic of your second paper to WebCT by Monday, and read at least the first half of Andrei Cherny's The Next Deal by Tuesday.

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