CS 4863: Computing, Society, & Professionalism

Instructor: Amy Bruckman
Email: asb at cc.gatech.edu
Office: Technology Square Research Building (TSRB) 338
(On 5th Street; the building with Moe's in it.)
Office Hours: Find me after class, or email for an appointment.


TAs: Shagun Jhaver (Head TA), jhaver.shagun at gatech.edu C15: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm F, Skiles 171
  Candice Butts, cbutts3 at gatech.edu C12: 6:00 pm - 7:55 pm W, Coll of Computing 52
    C14: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm W, Mason 3132
  Sucheta Ghoshal, sucheta at gatech.edu C03: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm W, D. M. Smith 203
    C09: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm R, Cherry Emerson 322
  Kavin Krishnan, kavinkrishnan at gmail.com C11: 6:00 pm - 7:55 pm M, Skiles 308
  Yalini Kumar, ysk3 at gatech.edu C01: 11:15 am - 1:10 pm F, Howey (Physics) S104
    C13: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm T, Engr Science & Mech 201
  Varun Nambiar, vnambiar9 at gatech.edu C07: 3:00 pm - 4:55 pm T Clough Commons 150
    C10: 12:00 pm - 1:55 pm T, Clough Commons 146
  Jaswanth Pyneni, jpyneni at gatech.edu C02: 6:00 pm - 7:55 pm M, Skiles 371
  Kathy Tran, ktran77 at gatech.edu C04: 11:15 am - 1:10 pm F, Howey (Physics) S105A


Lecture Location: Klaus 2443
Lecture Time:

Monday, Wednesday 11:15-12:05

Section Times:

Check Buzzport for your discussion section time and location

Discussion: On Piazza

Class Schedule

Learning Objectives

In this class, you will learn about:

What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? How is "ethical" different from "legal"? We'll learn about several philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitiarianism, Kantianism, social contract theory, and virtue ethics. 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?
Computing and Society
In what ways does computer technology impact society? We'll talk about a host of issues including privacy, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.


Required Texts:
  • Ethics for the Information Age, Eighth Edition, by Michael Quinn (Electronic only; no paper copy exists.)
  • Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making by Edward R. Tufte. Graphics Press, 1997.
    Note that this little book reproduces chapter 2 of Tufte's book Visual Explanations.
  • Articles on electronic reserve.
  • Articles available online.

Please make sure to read the correct (online only) edition of the Quinn book, since content in it gets quickly out of date.

Assignments and Grading

  • Lecture and Section Attendance (10%)
  • Section Participation (15%)
  • Homeworks (20%)
       Note that the term paper proposal and outline count as homework assignments.
  • Midterm (15%)
  • Term Paper (25%)
  • Final Exam (15%)

Class attendance is required for both lectures and sections. Please remember to sign the attendandce sheet. Please do not sign the attendance sheet if you are more than 15 minutes late.

You may have two unexcused absences from lecture, and this will not affect your attendance grade. You may NOT miss any sections, unless you have a documented excuse. Please remember to get notes from a classmate if you miss a lecture.

If you need to miss class for a legitimate reason, please email the head TA before lecture and your section instructor and the head TA before section. Legitimate reasons for missing class include illness, a job interview, or attending a professional conference. Excuses that will NOT be accepted include for example picking someone up at the airport, having something due in another class, or having furniture delivered.

Attending the Career Fair is NOT a legitimate reason, since it is open all day.

To request an excused absence, please use this form.

Reference format
Please use APA format for all references. APA format is described here.

No Use of Laptops or Cell Phones in Class
Many people take out laptops with the intention of just using it to take notes, but end up being distracted by email and social media. Further, this activity distracts other students in the class. 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.

You may use your laptop in class for the purpose of referencing assigned readings, including electronic copies of our textbook.

Please do not use your cell phone in class.

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.

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

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, but you also won't get credit for good 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 still of course expect you to try to write in correct English, and will do our best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

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. If you have used your late days on a low-value assignment like a homework, you can't later transfer them to a different assignment.

Honor Code
This class abides by the Georgia Tech Honor Code. All assigned work is expected to be individual, except where explicitly written otherwise. You are encouraged to discuss the assignments with your classmates; however, what you hand in should be your own work.


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