General Course Info

  • Instructor: Sucheta Ghoshal [sucheta (at)]
  • First Class: Monday, January 6
  • Time/ Location: M/W 4:30pm-5:45pm, CoC Room 102
  • Office Hours: Tue/Thur 3:30pm - 4:30pm, or email for an appointment: TSRB ELC Lab (3rd floor)
  • TA: Udaya Lakshmi [udaya (at)]
  • TA Office Hours: by appointment

In this class, you will learn about:

Computing & Society
In what ways does computing technology impact society and its people? How do larger societal structures of race, gender, and class influence computing technologies? We'll talk about a host of issues including privacy, surveillance technologies, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.
How can we make the most ethical choices when dealing with issues of computing and society? What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? How is "ethical" different from “legal"? Is ethics enough to ensure that the technologies we create work for all people, and not just a select few? We'll learn about classical philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitiarianism, deontology, social contract theory, and virtue ethics. We will also analyze practical scenarios and stories from all around the world that urge us to ask hard questions about the philosophical foundations of the ethical frameworks we learn. 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?
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.
Academic integrity: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you are expected to do your assignments and work on your own. Your final paper will be an independent effort created solely by you. For it, you may use appropriately cite sources on the web. It is appropriate to discuss your paper with others to gain ideas and feedback and help with sticky problems. It is not appropriate to find an existing paper, modify it and submit it as your own work. If in doubt, confer with your instructor.

All students are expected to adhere to the Georgia Tech Honor Code.

Course Schedule

Readings should be completed before each lecture.

Dates Topic Reading and Activities Assignments Due
1-6 Welcome and Overview Screening of The Yes Men Fix The World: Bhopal Gas Tragedy    
1-8 The Case of Computing and Society The Limits of Correctness by Brian Cantwell Smith Reading Reflection (RR)
1-13 Politics of artifacts Do Artifacts Have Politics? By Langdon Winner RR
1-15 Utilitarianism RR
1-20 No Class MLK Holiday  
1-22 Class Activity Topics discussed thus far
1-27 Deontology & Social Contract Theory Quinn 2.6, 2.9
  • RR
1-29 Social Contract Theory RR
2-3 Care ethics, Stakeholder Analysis, & Virtue Ethics
  • Please come to class with a short quote from one of the readings that you find interesting.
  • RR
2-5 Freedom of Speech & Networked Communications RR
2-10 Privacy
  • Quinn Chapter 5, Chapter 6 through 6.5, 6.7
2-12 Privacy and the Government RR & HW2 due
2-17 Discussion of Term Paper Proposals
2-19 Discussion of Term Paper Proposals contd.
  • Come to class prepared to tell everyone about your term paper topic.
2-24 Insurrectionist ethics Insurrectionist ethics by Leonard Harris (p.192-p.210 of Ethics for the New Millenium)
  • RR
2-26 Exam Midterm Sample Midterm  
3-2 Race & computing
  • RR
3-4 Gender & Computing Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination by Sasha Costanza-Chock RR & HW3 Due
3-9 Class & Computing How the surveillance state destroys the lives of poor whites and people of color by Betts, RD
3-11 AI, Algorithms, and Bias Quinn Chapter 8.1-8.4, 8.7-8.8 RR
3-16 No class Spring break  
3-18 No class Spring break  
3-23 Technology & Policing [No meeting due to COVID-19 outbreak] RR optional
3-27 Privacy & Biological Data [No meeting due to COVID-19 outbreak] RR optional
3-30 Discuss readings from last two days, and set context for O'Neil reading
4-1 Power of Corporations, Big Data, and Manipulation RR
4-6 Work and Wealth RR
4-8 Computing & social good? RR
4-13 No class      
4-15 Term paper presentations, Day 1      
4-20 Term paper presentations, Day 2      
4-22 Term paper presentations, Day 3    
4-24 Final term paper due      


Class Participation

It is expected that students will come to class, be prepared by doing the readings, and will pay attention and participate in discussions. Doing all three regularly will earn full credit. Contributions to class Piazza discussions count towards class participation.

Reading Reflections

Reflections are due at 10am on the day of the class. For this, you are expected to submit two questions that the readings raised for you on Piazza. Participation and discussion on Piazza as responses to each others' questions are highly encouraged and will be counted toward the participation grade.

No Use of Laptops or Cell Phones in Class

Educational research shows that taking notes by hand on paper will lead to better retention of material than taking notes by typing. Also, in the past we have had issues with students not only not paying attention but also disrupting others during class-- by playing games, by accidentally clicking on a video with the sound on, etc. Requests to use laptops in class will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you would like to use a laptop during class, please set up a time to meet with the professor.

Please do not use your cell phone in class.

Any questions regarding general rules and regulations should first be directed to the Georgia Tech Catalog. If you still have questions, please seek out the TA or Instructor during the posted office hours.


Reading reflections carry 5% of the total grade.

Homeworks 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.

Please hand all assignments in on paper unless explicitly instructed otherwise. Please also double space. The blank space leaves us room for comments.

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.

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. To take advantage of this option, you must mark "ESL" (English as a Second Language) on the first page of your assignment/paper. This option is not available for group assignments. We will do our best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

Required Textbooks

[Quinn] Ethics for the Information Age, Seventh Edition, by Michael Quinn (You may rent an electronic copy rather than buying it.)


Note: The grading policy has been adjusted to accomodate the COVID-19 crisis that we are all collectively facing.
Component Weight
Reading Reflections 5%
Class Participation (will take attendance into account) 20%
HW Assignment 15%
Midterm Exam 20%
Term Paper 40%

Late Policy

Assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 3 pts (one grade step: A becomes A-) per day. Assignments more than one week late will not be accepted.

Over the course of the term, you have three "late days" where work may be late with no explanation needed. Please mark “Use my late days” on the first page of your assignment/paper if want to use your late days when you make late submissions. Use your late days wisely as different submissions have different weights.


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