Spring ’10



  • Professor Irfan Essa (Email is the BEST (and ONLY) option: irfan at cc dot gatech dot edu, please use CS4001: as the first words in the subject line)
  • Office Hours: After class OR schedule via email appointment (see my Google Calendar)

Teaching Assistant

Class Time/Location:

  • Tuesday and Thursday 4:35pm – 5:55am
  • ROOM: ES&T L1125

T-Square Site

Class Description

Although Computing, Society and Professionalism is a required course for CS majors, it is not a typical computer science course. Rather than dealing with the technical content of computing, it addresses the effects of computing on individuals, organizations, and society, and on what yourresponsibilities are as a computing professional in light of those impacts. The topic is a very broad one and one that you will have to deal with almost every day of your professional life. The issues are sometimes as intellectually deep as some of the greatest philosophical writings in history – and sometimes as shallow as a report on the evening TV news. This course can do little more than introduce you to the topics, but, if successful, will change the way you view the technology with which you work. You will do a lot of reading, analyzing, and communicating (verbally and in writing) in this course. It will require your active participation throughout the semester and should be fun and enlightening.

Learning Objectives

In this class. you will learn about:

  • Ethics: What do “right” and “wrong” mean anyway? How is “ethical” different from “legal”? We’ll learn about several philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitiarianism, Kantianism, stakeholder analysis, and virtue ethics. The goal is for students to be able to address ethical dilemmas with reasoned arguments, grounded in a combination of these ethical theories.
  • Professional Ethics: What special responsibilities do we have as computing professionals? What do the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and ACM Code of Ethics say, and how can we use these in our daily practice?
  • Computing and Society: In what ways does computer technology impact society? We’ll talk about a host of issues including privacy, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.
  • Argumentation: How do you construct a well-reasoned argument? Whatever you go on to do in your professional career, your success will arguably depend more on your oral and written communication skills than on your technical skills. This class is one of your few and precious opportunities to work to improve those skills.

Core issues about computing and society and about computing professionalism.

Following issues will be touched on during the course of the term

  • Impact of Computing on Society, Individuals and Organizations
  • Governance and Regulation
  • Free Speech
  • Intellectual Property
  • Privacy
  • Security and law enforcement
  • Dependability other than security.
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Media and its impact on computing and society

Text & Reading Material.

  • Ethics for the Information Age, [EIA] by Michael J. Quinn, M., 3rd Edition, Addison Wesley,
    2009 (ISBN: 0-321-53685-1) (Website)
  • Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings, [WA] (Concise Edition), by John D. Ramage, John C. Bean, and June Johnson, 5th Edition, 2010. ISBN: 0-205-66577-2 (Website)
  • Other material available online or on electronic reserve.

Assignments and Grading

  • Class Attendance & Participation (20 %)
  • Homeworks (30%) [There will be 3-4 Assignments]
  • Midterm (10%) (Here is a sample midterm exam.)
  • Final Exam (10%)
  • Term Paper (30%)
    • Includes:  Proposal(2%), Sources (5%), Outline(5%), Draft (5%), Final Write-up (8%) and Presentation (5%).


  • Class attendance is required. Please remember to sign the attendance sheet each class. Late by 15 minutes, counts as an absence. Legitimate reasons for being excused from class include, personal issues, health (keep those germs away from class), interview, conference travel, etc.  Assignments due in other classes, out to pick up friends, and other such excuses not accepted. Please inform Instructor of a planned absence via email before class.
  • Homeworks Assignments will be graded on a list of criteria (specified on the assignment) such as quality of writing, completeness, insight into technical issues, insight into social issues, etc. For each criterion, you will receive either a check plus, check, or check minus. Most criterion will receive a check. A plus means “you impressed me.” A minus means the assignment is incomplete, incorrect, or sloppy in some fashion with respect to that criterion. Pluses and minuses are combined to give your grade for the assignment. For most assignments, you start out half way between a B+ and A-. One plus makes it an A-; one minus makes it a B+. These are general guidelines to let you know what to expect. Grading on specific assignments may differ.Assignments are due at thestart of class on the day they are due.
  • Late Assignments: Each student is allowed 2 days of late submission, to be USED only for assignments (and not for anything related to the final term paper!). You can use these 2 days for any assignment. After your “grace” days are expended, grading will be deducted as described above.
  • Laptops use in class: Use of laptops in class room for purposes of note-taking is allowed, but ONLY and ONLY for that purpose.  If a student is seen surfing the web during class, or chatting with someone, then points will be deducted from the class attendance and participation portions of the grade (3% for each infraction, with a total of 3 max).
  • Cellphones in class: Please turn your cellphone and other mobile devices to “silent” mode during class.  Thanks.
  • You will have the opportunity to revise your term paper. Your final term paper grade will be the average of your first and revised grade. To hand in a revised paper, you must hand in three things: a copy of the original paper with instructor comments on it, a copy of the revised paper, and a copy of the revised paper with changes highlighted. You may highlight changes with a highlighter pen, or use the ‘version tracking’ feature of many word processors.
  • This class abides by the Georgia Tech Honor Code. All assigned work is expected to be individual, except where explicitly written otherwise. You are encouraged to discuss the assignments with your classmates; however, what you hand in should be your own work. If any work product was produced based on discussions with someone else (in the class OR outside), please specify clearly in the final turn-in.


Assignments and ideas on this syllabus build on those from everyone who has taught it before, especially Colin Potts, Amy Bruckman, Jim Foley, Mary Jean Harrold, and Spencer Rugaber.


Here is a day by day schedule of the class. See T-Square @ GATech site for this class for details on readings and assignments. Some topics and readings are subject to change, so please make sure to check this site on weekly basis (at-least).

Date Topic Readings Notes
1/12 Welcome & Overview
1/14 Case Study #1: Therac-25 Medical Devices: The Therac-25
by Nancy Leveson.
Quinn, Chapter 1
1/19 Computing and Society Quinn Chapter 1 (continued)
1/21 GT Days of Engagement Exercise
Reading Arguments
See Resources/Lecture 04 on T-Square, WA 1
1/26 Reading Arguments WA 1 & 2
1/28 Analyzing Arguments ** WA 1 & 2 updated
2/2 Deontology & Social Contract Theory Quinn Chapter 2
2/4 Core & Logical Structure of Arguments WA 3 & 4
2/9 Stakeholder Analysis & Virtue Ethics In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan, pp. 25-39 (electronic reserve)
Virtue Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
2/11 Freedom of Speech Quinn Chapter 3
2/16 Privacy Quinn Chapter 5
“Anonymized” data really isn’t–and here’s why
by Nate Anderson in ars technica”
2/18 Privacy, continued Quinn Chapter 5, continued
EU-US Airline Passenger Data Disclosure (skim)
2/23 Discussion of Term Paper Proposals
2/25 Do Artifacts have politics “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”
by Langdon Winner (electronic reserve)
3/2 Evidence WA 5
3/4 Moving your Audience &
Responding to Alternate Views
WA 6 & 7
3/9 Midterm
3/11 Intellectual Property Quinn Chapter 4, through end of 4.6
3/16 Software as Intellectual Property Quinn Chapter 4, continued (4.7-end)
3/18 Media and Society Control Room (2004)
3/23 Spring Break Enjoy
3/25 Spring Break Enjoy
3/30 The Patriot Act Wikipedia Articles:
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
The USA Patriot Act
4/1 When do People Cheat?
Ethical Conduct in the Real World
Chapter from “Predictably Irrational”
by Dan Ariely (electronic reserve)
4/6 Professional Ethics Quinn Chapter 8
Article “Using the New ACM Code of Ethics in Decision Making”
by Anderson et al (electronic reserve)
4/8 Guest Speaker
4/13 Media & Ethics Control Room (2004)
4/15 Work & Wealth Quinn Chapter 9
4/20 Simulation Sedutions of Sim by Paul Starr
4/22 Guesst Speakers from Finnegan.COM Anita Bhushan, Gabriel Azar, Brannon McKay (Lawyers from Finnegan)
will come and talk about Copyright/Patents and other IP issues.
4/27 Term Paper Presentations
4/29 Term Paper Presentations

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s