CS 585 Section 001, Spring 2018:
Science Fiction and Computer Ethics


Time and Place: T/Th 9:30--10:45, 111 ChemFizz

Professor: Dr. J. Goldsmith
Office: 311 Davis Marksbury Building
Office Hours: TBA or by appointment. Email questions encouraged and answered.

Course Description:

The topics covered in this course will be:

The course will look critically and with enthusiasm at science fiction portrayals of science, technology, and ethics. We will use the fictional situations as jumping-off points for discussions of ethics. We will also consider the state of technology related described in the fiction, and its current effects on society.

Prereqs: Ability to read and write English, and to think and write analytically.

Readings: There will be weekly readings, usually one story and one or two articles, including both informational readings and current interest pieces. All readings will be available through the Canvas site.


There will be:

Illegible work will not be graded. Plagiarized work will be penalized for all parties, according to University regulations.

The midterm project will be completed/submitted by March 6th; a project proposal is due on January 23nd. The final project is due by Tuesday, May 1st by 10 AM, although any in-class presentations must be scheduled during a class period. The final project proposal is due by April 3rd.

Essays will be due on Thursdays at the beginning of class. You are expected to be on time for class. You will bring a printed hardcopy of your essay to class and are encouraged to write on it as your thoughts develop through in-class discussion. You will submit the essays, with new thoughts, at the end of class. It is expected that you will write on them; your grade depends both on the printed version and on your observations, notes, and revisions.


Regular attendance in class is expected.

Copying of homework from other students or from other sources is strictly prohibited. Obtaining a solution from another source without citing the source is plagiarism. You are encouraged to visit Dr. Goldsmith in her office hours or to send her email if you are stuck on assignments. You do not need an appointment for regularly scheduled hours.

Note that readings in italics in the syllabus are or will be available in Canvas.

Week by Week Course Outline:

Jan. 11 Intro to course
Jan. 16--18 Intro to Ethical Theories; Codes of Ethics ACM Code; IEEE Code; Chapter II_ Professional Ethics; Assignment #1
Jan. 23--25 Lightening overview; Deontology The Dead Past Intro to Deontology; Dolly Ethical Description 1
Jan. 30--Feb. 1 Utilitarianism Intro to Utilitarianism, "Repent, Harlequin!", Said the Ticktockman Ethical Description 2
Feb. 5--7Virtue Ethics Intro to Virtue Ethics; The Machine Stops Ethical Description 3
Feb. 13--15Information Dirty Hands; Codename Delphi
Feb. 20--22 Privacy Here-and-Now; The Sightseers (or as a podcast)
Feb. 27--Mar. 1Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom excerpt of Automating Inequality, by Eubanks
Mar. 6--8Class debate, summary/reflection
Mar. 12--17 SPRING BREAK!
Mar. 20--22 Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom; Personhood Managing Knowledge; excerpt of Automating Inequality, by Eubanks; Welcome to your authentic indian experience; Class debate
Mar. 27--29Eldercare Robot and Frank, Today I am Paul
Apr. 3--5Attention Black Mirror's The Entire History of You; The Gambler, by Bacigalupi
Apr. 10--12Power and Scarcity Black Mirror's Waldo Moment, Teleabsence
Apr. 17--19War Class debate
Apr. 24--26Wrap up
May 2FINAL: TUES., MAY 1st, 10am

Dear Student: As part of our curriculum improvement process, the Department of Computer Science would like to know how well this course has helped you meet the learning objectives for the course. Please respond to the supplemental questions beginning at 37 on the response sheet as follows:

0=Not Applicable 1=Strongly disagree 2=Disagree 3=Meh 4=Agree 5=Strongly agree

The course has helped me to improve my ability, my understanding, or my knowledge in the following categories:

  1. This course has enhanced my ability to consider ethically complex situations from multiple perspectives.
  2. I have a better understanding of how computer science in general intersects with ethical issues.
  3. I have a better understanding of when and how a computer scientist will be called upon to make ethically charged decisions.
  4. This course has enhanced my ability to make thoughtful and responsible ethical decisions in the face of complex problems.
  5. I have gained a better understanding of professional, ethical, legal, security, and social issues and responsibilities.

This page last modified: Saturday, January 6rd, 2018