Computing, society & professionalism, cs 4001

Location: Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Computing 102
Time: Tuesday & Thursday 9:30-10:45 am
Instructor: Dr. Ben Rydal Shapiro
Office Hours: Monday 1-2 pm and by appointment, TSRB 220
Teaching Assistant: Miranda Parker (

Overview & Learning goals

In this course you will engage with the ethical complexities of computing and design in a variety of contexts. You will also develop your ability to critically analyze, construct, and discuss different forms of argument in order to advance your professional work and goals. In class discussion, assignments, and interactive lectures form the basis of this course and focus on a variety of issues including artificial intelligence, predictive policing, data science, and research ethics.

Specifically, you will learn about:

Ethics & Design: How can we implement moral decision making faculties in computers and robots? What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? Throughout this course you'll learn to address ethical dilemmas and evaluate designs with reasoned arguments grounded in a combination of ethical theories/perspectives while subjecting your own personal views to critical examination.

Professional Ethics: What special responsibilities do we have as computing professionals? What new responsibilities should we have? 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 & Society: In what ways does computer technology impact society? What does it mean for an artifact or software to have politics? What are different ways to assess the consequences of technologies or interventions on society?

Argumentation: How do you construct and listen to a well-reasoned argument? How is technology changing the way we are able to construct and listen to arguments? Whatever you go on to do in your professional career, your success will arguably depend more on your oral, written, and visual communication skills than on your technical skills. This class is one of your few and precious opportunities to work to improve those skills.


Ethics for the Information Age, Seventh Edition, by Michael Quinn

Recommended but not required: Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings, Ninth Edition (2016) by John D. Ramage, John C. Bean, and June Johnson.

* All other readings and interactive content will be made available online or on Canvas


* All assignments are described and will be submitted on Canvas

Class Attendance & Participation - 25%

Assignments (4 total) - 25%

  • Assignment 1: Reading the argument of a current article (5%)

  • Assignment 2: Term paper proposal (5%)

  • Assignment 3: Term paper outline (10%)

  • Assignment 4: Term paper presentation (5%)

Midterm Exam - 25%

Term Paper: 25%

* A sample mid-term exam is available here, and 3 different sample term papers are available here: Paper 1, Paper 2, and Paper 3 (shared with students permission)

Class Attendance. Class attendance is required. If you need to miss class for a legitimate reason, please speak with the instructor and TA, preferably before class.

Class Participation.  This is about more than attendance but about contributing to learning in class through asking questions, giving suggestions to your classmates or generally being part of the discussion. Participation involves both your careful preparation for class of readings and tasks, and your genuine support of peers in the learning process. This is a reading-intensive course particularly in the first few weeks. You are not asked to memorize what you read. Rather, you should come to class prepared to discuss and raise questions about the readings on the day they are listed in the weekly schedule (below).

Reference Format. Unless otherwise specified in the assignment, written work must follow APA format described here.  Basic guidelines include that all written work should be double-spaced in Times New Roman, and have 12-point font. Citations should be used for ideas, statements, comments, etc. that are not common knowledge or your own original thought.

ESL. If English is not your first language, you may request to not be graded on your writing for a particular individual assignment, including the term paper. This means you won't be penalized for bad writing, but you also won't get credit for good writing. To take advantage of this option, you must mark "ESL" (English as a Second Language) on the first page of your assignment/paper. Instructors still of course expect you to try to write in correct English, and will do their best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

Late Policy. Students need to submit all of their materials on or before the deadline to qualify for 100% credit. Unless an exception for unusual circumstances has been agreed upon with your instructor, 24 hours delay will result in a 25% penalty; 48 hours late submissions will incur a 50% penalty, materials submitted past 48 hours will not be accepted, and will entered a zero grade.

Honor Code. 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.

Support Services. In your time at Georgia Tech, you may find yourself in need of support. Please see this LINK for information about some resources to support you both as a student and as a person.





Assignments Due


Introductions & course overview


Personal ethical dilemma activity

  • Complete background survey available on Canvas


Introduction to reading/writing arguments

  • Writing Arguments Chapters 1 & 2 OR bring an article to class about writing


Trolley cars then & now

  • Post link to potential article for 1st assignment to Canvas Discussion Forum

  • Work on Assignment 1


Utilitarianism & Kantianism


Social contract theory & Virtue ethics

Assignment 1


Case study: predictive policing


Artifacts, Algorithms & Politics


Big Data, Big Issues


Structuring arguments


Term Paper Discussion

  • Complete Assignment 2

  • Bring 3 paper copies of assignment 2 to class

Assignment 2


Professional ethics I


Mid-term review

  • Prepare for mid-term




Professional ethics II

  • Bring an algorithm, piece of code, or entire program you have written at Georgia Tech to class and be prepared to succinctly explain it


Fall Break


Getting personal with data & privacy I

  • Quinn Chapter 5


Visual argument: a historical perspective

  • Visual & Statistical Thinking (Tufte, Course Text book)


Visual argument: a contemporary perspective



Writing workshop/Peer Review Assignment 3

Assignment 3


Feminist ethics & AI

  • Please read either the LeGuin or I Robot chapter assigned to you in class, available in the “Files” tab on Canvas (you are more than welcome/encouraged to read both)


Science Fiction & Computing, Society & Professionalism: Student generated perspectives

  • On our Canvas Discussion forum, share a 2-3 minute video clip (on youtube/vimeo) from science fiction/pop culture that discusses a topic related to computing, society & professionalism that you find interesting


TBD/Guest Speaker


TBD/Guest Speaker


Intellectual Property (Guest Speaker from Equifax, Elizabeth Lester)


Guest Speaker, Amy Bruckman

11/26, 12/3

Summing Up & Term Paper Presentations

Topics and readings are subject to change. Please always check the online schedule

Acknowledgments: Class materials build on those who have taught it before especially Amy BruckmanMunmun De ChoudhurySauvik Das, and Kayla DesPortes as well as work from Michael SandelDavid OwensRogers Hall, and Andy Hostetler

Additional Resources:

Over 200 Tech Ethics Curricula/Syllabi collected by Casey Fiesler

Computer ethics links by Cindy Meyer-Hanchey

MIT Course on the Ethics & Governance of Artificial Intelligence