Algorithms for the People (CS 2952V)

Lecture: 10:30-11:50am, Tu/Th

Instructor: Seny Kamara (

Office hours: by appointment

Teaching assistant: Ghous Amjad (

Office hours: TBD

Course Description

Computer science has transformed every aspect of society, including communication, transportation, commerce, finance, and health. The revolution enabled by computing has been extraordinarily valuable. The largest tech companies generate almost a trillion dollars a year and employ millions of people. But technology does not affect everyone in the same way. In this seminar, we will examine how new technologies are affecting marginalized communities.

This year’s themes will include

Syllabus: pdf


Graduate students: none

Undergrad CS concentrators: either 30, 32 or 33

Undergrad non-CS concentrators: email professor

Course Schedule (preliminary)

Dates Topic Speaker Scribe Readings Note
Sep 10 Overview Seny
Sep 15 Responsibility Seny P. Rogaway. The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Y. Zak. Supporting unmanned aerial systems operations using ground-life visualizations (make sure to watch the Q&A)
Sep 17 Protests Seny S. Biddle (The Intercept). Police Surveilled George Floyd Protests with Help fom Twitter-Affiliated Startup DATAMINR

R. Heilweil (Vox). Members of Congress want to know more about law enforcement’s surveillance of protesters
Sep 22 Protests Seny S. Morrison, A. Estes (Vox).How protesters are turning the tables on police surveillance Project list out
Sep 24 Migration S. Ghaffary (Vox). The “smarter” wall: How drones, sensors, and AI are patrolling the border

B. Tau, M. Hackman (WSJ). Federal Agencies Use Cellphone Location Data for Immigration Enforcement (watch video)
Sep 29 Migration S. Chambers, G. Boyce, S. Launius, A. Dinsmore. Mortality, Surveillance and the Tertiary Funnel Effect on the US-Mexico Border Projects chosen
Oct 1 Geo-Fencing SCOTUS. Carpenter v US (read until p. 23)

O. Kerr. Understanding the Supreme Court’s Carpenter Decision
Oct 6 Geo-Fencing C. Levinson (Protocol). Through apps, not warrants, ‘Locate X’ allows federal law enforcement to track phones

C. Maloney, E. Warren, R. Wyden, M. DeSaulnier. Oversight Committee Letter to Venntel
Oct 8 Geo-Fencing All Things Considered (NPR). How Political Campaigns Are Using ‘Geofencing’ Technology To Target Catholics At Mass (podcast)

C. Woodward, H. Bray (Boston Globe). A company sent anti-abortion ads by phone
Oct 13 Policing K. Roberson, C. Khoo, Y. Song. To Surveil and Predict
Oct 15 Policing
Oct 20 Policing
Oct 22 Human Rights K. Sandvik, N. Raymond. Beyond the Protective Effect: Towards a Theory of Harm for Information Communication Technologies in Mass Atrocity Response
Oct 27 Human Rights Overview of Myanmar’s History

T. McLaughlin (Wired). How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar
Oct 29 Human Rights Business for Social Responsibility. Human Rights Impact Assessment: Facebook in Myanmar

R. Frankel. How Facebook Is Preparing for Myanmar’s 2020 Election
Nov 3 US Election
Nov 5 TBD
Nov 10 Fintech A. Katz (The Intercept). The Fintech Debt Trap

S. Kamara, Statement to the House Financial Services Committee
Nov 12 Fintech Z. Amsden et al. The Libra Blockchain

Libra Association Members. The Libra Whitepaper
Nov 17 Fintech American for Financial Reform and Demand Progress. Banking on Surveillance: The Libra Black Paper
Nov 19 Project presentations
Nov 24 Project presentations
Nov 26 Thanksgiving
Dec 1 Reading period
Dec 3 Reading period

A note on the syllabus: the syllabus does not contain any work on AI and ML and, in particular, on algorithmic fairness. This is a very important subject but we will not be discussing it in 2952 because it is already covered in several Brown CS courses.