CS 181/181W: Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy, Spring 2024

Course basics

LecturesMonday and Wednesday, 1:30 p.m.–2:50 p.m. in 370-370.
Course calendar TBD
How to enrollThe class has limited enrollment: up to 75 in CS181W, and 50 in CS181.
Ed Discussion ForumPlease post questions on the class Ed Forum (link TBD).
Sections Held on Thursday or Friday, starting in first week of class. Please fill out the section signup form.
Final examNo final exam
CS181W only181W students will meet with an instructor from the Technical Communication Program to revise and resubmit one of their assignments. Use this form to schedule your meeting with a TCP instructor.
Project The major assignment in the class is a quarter-long project, culminating in a poster session and a presentation day at the end of the term. Please read the final project guidelines and due dates.


Keith Winstein
Associate Professor of Computer Science

Email: Winstein email address
Office hours: Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. in Gates 410

Chris Gregg
Associate Professor (Teaching) of Computer Science

Email: Gregg email address
Office hours: Thursdays, 1–3 p.m. in Durand 325

Course Assistants

Vionna Ateffi
Email: vionnaa@stanford.edu

Emily Bunnapradist
Email: embunna@stanford.edu

David Gottlieb
Email: dmg1@stanford.edu

Tori Qiu
Email: toriqiu@stanford.edu

Ellie Vela
Email: elijahjv@stanford.edu

Jin-Hee Lee
Email: jchlee@stanford.edu

Learning goals

CS 181/181W will focus on teaching:

  • how to recognize (how to train a grasshopper on your shoulder to be vigilant about noticing) when a decision you are facing has a significant ethical implication
  • how to reason about what should happen, consistent with the norms, culture, and experience of our discipline
  • how to make well-reasoned, persuasive arguments that can influence the course of events.
Coursework will include short online writing assignments (emphasizing the 400-word business memo), in-class exercises in making persuasive arguments out loud, and a quarter-long project. Attendance is required at lectures and sections.

Grading Breakdown

We will weight components of the course for grading as follows:

  • Writing Assignments: 40%
  • Project: 30%
  • Lecture Participation: 10%
  • Section Participation: 20%

Spring 2024 FAQ

Traditionally, CS181/181W is taught in a discussion-based, participatory format. With a cap of 125 students in the class, this will be the largest discussion-based class you have ever taken. We will do our best to teach you how to recognize situations with ethical import, reason about the right course of action, and persuade your organization to follow, and we'll do exercises in class and in section to help you hone your reasoning and persuasive skills. The class includes a major project that requires interacting with the world outside the Stanford campus. Attendance in the class is required to participate in the discussions; the class is not recorded.

Please read the course FAQ included here:

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 part of what this course is about.


DateDue before classContent

Unit 1: risk and responsibility

Monday, April 1 L1 Overview of the class
  • Goals
  • Persuasive writing
  • Intro to cold-calling
  • Projects
  • How to enroll

Wednesday, April 3 Please fill out:

Please read:

Please complete:
L2 Responsibility
April 5 S1 First section meetings

Monday, April 8 Please read: Please submit: L3 Risk and Reward
Wednesday, April 8 Please watch: (note: disturbing subject matter) Please read: L4 Disasters and major failures
Monday, April 15 Please read: Please submit: L5 Risk redux
Wednesday, April 17 Please read: Please submit: Slides from the lecture on Effective Altruism. L6 Utilitarianism

Unit 2: AI discrimination and automated decision-making

Monday, April 22 Please read: L7 Reasoning about uncertainty
Wednesday, April 24 Please read: Please submit: L8 Inference
Monday, April 29 Please read: Starting today: CS181W students only should sign up to meet with TCP to revise one of their memos. Meetings begin May 6 and end May 28. L9 Discrimination and ethical AI
Wednesday, May 1 Please read: Please submit: L10 Fairness

Unit 3: Silicon Valley Inc.

Monday, May 6 Please read: L11 Participation in the tech industry
Wednesday, May 8 Please read: Please submit (before your section on Friday): L12 Working in the tech industry
Monday, May 13 Please read: L13 Content
Wednesday, May 15 Please read: Please submit: L14 Information and advertising

Unit 4: Hacking and information

Monday, May 20 Please watch: Please read: Please submit: L15 Surveillance and privacyd
Wednesday, May 22 Please read: Please come prepared with:
  • One prepared question (please write it out) for Lora Kolodny
L16 The press (Lora Kolodny visit)
Wednesday, May 29 Please watch: Please read: L17 Copyright, copyleft, and the joy of creation
Monday, June 3 Please read: Monday's class will be composed of two parts:
  1. Ask Me Anything, Keith and Chris Edition. Please ask and upvote questions here: 181-AMA (log in with Event number 12345)
  2. Revisit a topic? If you would like us to (probably briefly) revisit a topic that you think needed more conversation, please fill out this anonymous Google Form.
L18 AMA / Revisit topics