CS009: Computers and Human Values (Fall 2003)
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Final Exam -- December 16, 2004 -- 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 asks you to write an essay interpreting and integrating ideas and perspectives from several of those texts. 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 how it represents or is indicative of particular points or arguments made by the author. Your answers needn't be longer than a paragraph or two, but they 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 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 Great Depression certainly did not help matters. In Looking Forward, Franklin Roosevelt wrote, 'I believe that after the experience of the last three years, the average citizen would rather receive a smaller return upon his savings in return for greater security for the principal, than to experience for a moment the thrill of the prospect of being a millionaire only to find the next moment that his fortune, actual or expected, has withered in his hand because the economic machine has again broken down." The assumption of New Deal programs -- like Social Security -- was that Americans preferred the 'security' of sustenance to the 'thrill' of finding success. For many years, this was true."

  2. "The event was notable for many reasons, but one especially is of interest here. Several times during both matches, Kasparov reported signs of mind in the machine. In the second tournament, he worried there might be humans behind the scenes, feeding Deep Blue strategic insights."

  3. "For whatever we do today in physics -- whether we release energy processes that ordinarily go on only in the sun, or attempt to initiate in a test tube the processes of cosmic evolution, or penetrate with the help of telescopes the cosmic space to a limit of two and even six billion light years, or build machines for the production and control of energies unknown in the household of earthly nature, or attain speeds in atomic accelerators which approach the speed of light, or produce elements not to be found in nature, or disperse radioactive particles, created by us through the use cosmic radiation, on the earth -- we always handle nature from a point in the universe outside the earth."

  4. "Because of recent activities on the Internet, some believe that there is an urgent need to balance the privacy interests of individuals against the economic interests of online businesses as well as against the interests of the greater public good -- that is, to balance the interests of those groups (such as government agencies and corporations) who claim to have a legitimate need for information about individuals collected on the Internet against the needs or rights of those individuals about whom the information is collected. Others, however, believe that simply using a balancing scheme based on the tradeoff of interests involving the individual good versus the larger social good misses an important point because such a decision procedure fails to take into account the significance of privacy as a social (as well as an individual) value."

  5. "Only if one thinks of the subject as an autonomous self independent of the environment is one likely to experience the panic performed by Norbert Weiner's Cybernetics and Bernard Wolfe's Limbo. this view of the self authorizes the fear that if the boundaries are breached at all, there will be nothing to stop the self's complete dissolution. By contrast, when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend on the splice rather than being imperiled by it."

  6. "How then, is any practical relationship established between what is in people's heads and what is out there beyond their ken in the environment? How in the language of democratic theory, do great numbers of people feeling each so privately about so abstract a picture, develop any common will? How does a simple and constant idea emerge from this complex of variables? How are those things known as the Will of the People, or the National Purpose, or Public Opinion crystallized out of such fleeting and casual imagery?"

  7. "A heterogenous society benefits from shared experiences, many of them produced by the media. These shared experiences provide a kind of social glue, facilitating efforts to solve shared problems, encouraging people to view one another as fellow citizens, and sometimes helping to ensure responsiveness to genuine problems and needs, even helping to identify them as such."

Part II: Essay (2 hours)

Each of the following topics asks you to consider the works of several authors, 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 views, arguments and explanations. Please know that none of the topics have 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 and arguments.

CS9 Required Texts (Fall 2004):

Back to the Syllabus

© 2004 Roger B. Blumberg