CS 492/692 - Spring 2020 - Message 1

Welcome to CS492 the Social Implications of Computing. In previous years I would have said that you should walk away from this course believing that this is the best course you have ever taken at the University of Waterloo. It will be somewhat more challenging this term to hold to that claim with the online delivery. All the same, I am trying to emulate as much as possible the course that I would have offered in the classroom setting. We will lose the opportunity for face to face contact in a setting where you would have easily learned the names of all your classmates and felt a kind of social bond, but I will still endeavour to promote some of that same connection with the online discussion boards that we will be running. I will explain that more in a moment. Some of the other value-addeds of this course which are fairly easily retained are: the opportunity to write several essays and to get detailed feedback on your writing, towards learning how to communicate effectively; the rather rare opportunity to learn about a topic which I would claim is really vital for students in computer science (you all have a responsibility to be part of the discussion on the implications of computerization, as a group of people who has the technical expertise to judge what can and cannot be done with the systems that we build); a chance to work together in small groups on a few brainstorming exercises (our group assignment this year is in fact on the fascinating topic of digital misinformation and you will get to suggest what governments, organizations and individuals may all be able to do about this problem); and occasions as well to think on your feet, to react to what others have said on the spot (a skill that I am sure your future employers will be very happy to know that you have aquired).

What is unique about our handling of the topic of social implications of computers is the fact that students all have expertise in computer science: this enables us to engage in discussions where our understanding of how the technology works is at play. Some of the assignments invite you to propose recommendations and at times these too may be coloured by your knowledge of what is actually feasible.