CS 181/181W: Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy, Winter 2017

Course basics

LecturesMonday and Wednesday, 3:00 p.m.–4:20 p.m. in McMurtry Building 102 (Oshman Hall)
SectionsSign up for sections here
Final examNo final exam
Final projectFinal Project guidelines and due dates
ContactContact course staff at cs181-win1617-staff@lists.stanford.edu, or via our anonymous feedback form.


Keith Winstein
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Assistant Professor of Law (by courtesy)

Email: Winstein email address
Office hours: moved Tuesdays, 1:15 p.m.–2 p.m. in Gates 282

Allison Berke
Executive Director
Stanford Cyber Initiative

Email: Berke email address
Office hours: Thursdays, 4–5 p.m. at Bytes Cafe in Packard

Course assistants

Danaë Metaxa-Kakavouli

Email: Metaxa email address
Sections: Thurs, 1:30-2:20p (Gates 104)

Dev Bhargava

Email: Bhargava email address
Sections: Fri, 10:30-11:20a; Fri, 11:30a-12:20p (Sapp 104)

Jake McKinnon

Email: McKinnon email address
Sections: Fri, 12:30-1:20p; Fri, 1:30-2:20p (Gates 392)

Karen Wang

Email: Wang email address
Sections: Thurs, 3:30-4:20p (200-201); Thurs, 6:30-7:20p (Room 160-318 in Wallenberg Hall)

Content and grading

In the winter quarter, CS 181/181W will focus on teaching (1) how to make well-reasoned, persuasive ethical arguments, and (2) how to make the “right” arguments, consistent with the norms and culture of our discipline. Coursework will include short online writing assignments, written responses to other students, a debate in section, and a final project. Attendance is required at lectures and sections, and students should attend lectures prepared and ready to be called on. Grades will be calculated as follows:

Participation in lectures20%
Participation in sections20%
Writing assignments35%
Final project25%

Honor code

This is a class on ethics. All students are expected to follow the honor code, to give proper credit for work and for ideas, to act with integrity, and to “take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code.” The course staff is happy to answer questions, hypothetical or otherwise, about ethics in academic work and in computer science—it's what this course is about.

DateDue before classContent

Unit: risk and professional responsibility

Monday, Jan. 9First-day writing assignment re: Therac 25 (required for entry to CS181/181W)L1 Overview of course, and famous engineering disasters

Wednesday, Jan. 11
  1. Please watch at least one of the following documentaries about the Iran Air 655 disaster:
  2. Please sign up for sections here.
L2 Ethics background (Slides), Iran Air 655
Monday, Jan. 16no class (Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday)
Wednesday, Jan. 18
  1. Read “The Trolley Problem” by Judith Jarvis Thomson.
  2. Read the handout “Trolley Problems and Other Difficult Moral Questions” from Iowa State.
  3. Please complete a short answer online (150 words) before class.
L3 Artificial intelligence and trolley problems
Thursday/Friday, Jan. 19/20 Please read the final project guidelines and due dates. S1
Monday, Jan. 23 Read three excerpts from “Metamagical Themas” (1985), by Douglas Hofstadter. L4 Risk and reward
Wednesday, Jan. 25
  1. CS181W: Sign up for a meeting with Technical Writing Program staff here.
  2. Listen to the "Structural Integrity" episode of 99% Invisible, on the Citicorp tower and its structure engineer, LeMessurier.
L5 Decision making under pressure

Unit: surveillance

Thursday/Friday, Jan. 26/27 Screening times:
  • Thursday, Jan. 26, 8pm (Bishop Auditorium)
  • Friday, Jan. 27, 7pm (320-105)
  • Sunday matinee, Jan. 29, 3pm (Gates 104)
S2Citizenfour screening (sections do not meet)
Monday, Jan. 30 Read "The Outside Man" by Malcolm Gladwell about Edward Snowden. L6 Surveillance and the Snowden documents
Wednesday, Feb. 1
  1. Please read “Algerian Tells of Dark Term in U.S. Hands” (2006).
  2. Read the Supreme Court’s opinion in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001).
L7 More on surveillance and Snowden
Thursday/Friday, Feb. 2/3 Proposals due; Snowden discussion. S3
Monday, Feb. 6 Read “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work.” L8 How different disciplines and countries think about privacy (Allison's slides, Ben's slides)
Tuesday, Feb. 7Winstein office hours cancelled this week
Wednesday, Feb. 8
  1. Turn in Snowden persuasive writing assignment (600 words)
  2. Read the US Government's motion to compel Apple to comply with search assistance for the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone.
  3. Read Stanford's amicus brief in support of Apple.
L9 Apple v. FBI and the encryption debate
Thursday/Friday, Feb. 9/10S4

Unit: gender, race, and participation

Monday, Feb. 13
  1. Take an Implicit Association Test ("Gender-Science IAT")
  2. Read "Be Careful What You Code For" by danah boyd
  3. Read "Diversity in Tech Remains Elusive" and "Black Women in Tech 2016" on Model View Culture
L10 Diversity and discrimination within tech
Wednesday, Feb. 15 Read “Uncanny Valley” by Anna Wiener. L11 Diversity and discrimination because of tech
Thursday/Friday, Feb. 16/17 Please complete a 200-word response to a classmate’s essay about Edward Snowden. S5
Monday, Feb. 20no class (Washington’s birthday)
Wednesday, Feb. 22 L12 Online harassment and Gamergate
Thursday/Friday, Feb. 23/24S6
Monday, Feb. 27 Please read: Please complete a 200-word response to a classmate’s proposal for “What Should Twitter Do?” You can also read everybody’s submissions and responses to this essay prompt. L13 Algorithmic discrimination and takeaways from this unit

Materials from class:

Unit: hacking and information

Wednesday, March 1 Please read: Please complete a 150-word short answer: in your view, which essay speaks more to the concerns of today? Why? L14 Freedom to hack and the CFAA (Slides)
Thursday/Friday, March 2/3 S7 Sections do not meet. Please watch “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.”
Monday, March 6 Please read:

CS 181W students only Please submit your revisions to an earlier essay (Therac 25, Snowden, or What Should Twitter Do?), after consulting with the Technical Communication Program. (If you've already submitted by email, please submit again here. Apologies for the confusion.)

L15 Access and authorization
Wednesday, March 8 No reading; please work on your projects. L16 Statistics, ethics, and religion

Thursday/Friday, March 9/10 Projects due (in section)S8 Last section
Monday, March 13 Please read:

Ask us anything: Submit Questions Here!

L17 Net Neutrality and Ask Us Anything
Wednesday, March 15L18 Best project presentations