CS 492/692 - Winter 2014 - Assignment 5

The Social Impact of a New Computer Technology


This assignment is due in class on Monday March 31. Two copies of the assignment will be brought to class and Assignment 5B will take place in class time. The assignment is worth 15 marks and should be approximately 2000 words in length.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of new computerized innovations on the scene: blogs, on-line dating services, electronic tax filing, algorithmic trading software, datamining software, social networking technology (such as Facebook or Google Chrome), BitTorrent, MP3 files for music or novel hardware advances such as mobile handheld devices (iPhones, Blackberries, etc.) or e-readers (such as Kindle).

Select one specific computerized technology that has emerged roughly within the past 25 years and then investigate the social impact of this new advance. Your writeup should include: a description of the technology, situating it clearly within the field of computer science; an in-depth discussion of both the positive and negative consequences of this new technology (indicating segments of society which have been impacted); some reflection on how to best make use of the technology in the years to come. Note that you must provide a good balance of both positive and negative impacts in your essay; do not simply focus on one of these elements.

CS692 students are required to do primary research as part of this assignment: interviewing people who may be involved with or affected by the computer technology that has been chosen. Include an appendix which indicates the questions that were asked and include in the body of your essay what you learned from your primary research. Undergraduate students are welcome to include primary research as well; this is not required, however.

All students are expected to incorporate research (so not to simply state their opinions). This should happen not only for the part of the essay that discusses positive and negative impacts but also for the part of the essay that covers the technology (so cite references to clarify how you know how the technology works). Include a reference list at the end of the assignment and proper citations within the body of the text. Note that you may need to extrapolate from research that has been conducted in the past on other, related technologies.


This assignment requires students to reflect on several subtopics addressed within the course, in an open-ended exercise where the topic of study and the relevant social implications are both left open for the student to specify. Students will likely be reflecting on many of the core topics of the course such as: privacy, the effect of computers on work, reliability, social communication and security. As with other assignments, the aim is to have students combining research with original thought.