ECS 188 – Fall 2019 – Ethics in an Age of Technology – Course Information

If you’re in my class, or hoping to get in, you need to read everything on this webpage.



The course material will be broad, open-ended, and unlike anything else the begins with the letters ECS. Most of the class time will be spent with you guys talking.

At the end of the term, your course-evaluation form will say the following: Prof. Rogaway’s goal is to increase your inclination to think about, and act upon, the ethical implications of your personal and professional choices, and our collective work as technologists. He’d also like you to read a lot, to write a fair amount, and to become more comfortable participating in oral discussions and giving an oral presentation.

ECS 188 satisfies UCD’s Writing-Experience (WE) Literacy. There will be more reading than writing, but no shortage of either. As I elaboreate below, I am more interested in writing quality the most of my peers, and less forgiving of bad writing. ECS 188 also satisfies UCD’s Scientific Literacy (SL). We are particularly interested in this class how scientific and technological change relates to social and political change, and how it adduces ethical failures in both individuals and insituations.


The grading criteria this term is: Quizzes are not announced, but many (possibly most) days class will begin with one. The final paper and oral presentation will be on a topic of your choice, and you will work in pairs on it. The final exam slot will be used both for student presentations and an exam. To pass the class, you must
  1. Attend almost all classes (maximum of four missed classes);
  2. Take the final exam and get a passing grade on it;
  3. Complete the final project and get a passing grade on it;
  4. Have no unexcused absence and miss no assignment during the first two weeks (9/25–10/9); and
  5. Have no instance of academic misconduct in this class.
The grades I assign for this class tends to be high relative to other classes I teach: if you do the readings (with understanding), do the assigned work, and come to class, you should do fine. If you have reading comprehension problems or can’t write a decent sentence/paragraph/essay, this class is not for you. I suggest taking this class only after you have taken other upper-division writing classes.

Dropping the Class, and PTA Admits

This class is not for everyone. Compared to other offerings of ECS 188, mine involves more reading, harder readings, and I’m less forgiving of bad writing. The class is bound to be more depressing and more emotionally taxing, too. Just your bad luck!

Even with this, many students still want to take this class with me, and we are currently quite over-enrolled. Because this is an intimate, discussion-based class, I can’t just admit everyone. So I ask that, if you are going to drop, please figure this out as soon as possible, so that we can give some certainty to people on the waiting list sooner rather than later. While the deadline for dropping is the tenth day of instruction, I would request that you do your very best to figure this out by Monday, Sept 30. I will assume that anyone missing a week-1 or week-2 class or assignment is planning to drop, and I will assign an F grade to students who do not (unless they have made arrangements in advance with me).

Waitlisted students will not be admitted directly from the waiting list, but by PTA number. I will use my own quixotic criteria to decide whom to admit from the waiting list.

If you are unhappy with not being able to get into this class, know that I am unhappy, too. I encourage you to complain. Not to me, but to the Department Chair, Vice Chair, or Engineering Dean.


There is a course reader that I’ve put together, but I often make additions to it, and we certainly don’t cover all that’s there, either. Direct links to readings will appear in our daily schedule.

You will have to purchase some inexpensive books and films as the course progresses. I have seen that people try to avoid these purchases—for example, using a poorly-produced pdf instead of finding a nicely executed e-book, or watching a film on Netflix instead of Amazon because they don’t want to spend $2.99. This is an silly. The total cost of all materials for this course will be small—well under $50—and there is no reason you should let a few dollars determine what you are reading or watching, or how.

Each day, you must bring that day’s reading(s) to class. You can bring it either as a hardcopy or on an e-reader. You may not use a conventional laptop or smart phone during class. You will want to mark up readings as you read them. If you do not have convenient access to a printer, or if you think the university is charging you too much to make printouts, then I suggest that you buy a printer and a ream of paper. Alternatively, you may want to buy an e-reader.

Students often don’t understand or remember readings. They will say that they read the piece, and I believe them, yet they can’t answer questions about the reading that a person who had done the reading should be able to answer. While a few readings are genuinely hard, possibly beyond some student’s reading abilities, I think the main problem, at least for native speakers, is that people read when they are are distracted. It won’t work. Separate yourself from whatever might be distracting you. Look up words you don’t know. (school teachers provide terrible advise if they tell students to skip over unfamiliar words and to guess their meaning from the surrounding context). Read like it matters. The media on which you read also matters: trying to read a challenging piece on a smartphone is insane. A monitor might not be much better.

When you read, make sure you know the author’s name and at least a tiny bit about who s/he is. Know roughly when the piece you’re reading was written. Make sure you genuinely understand the ideas the author is saying, and what his/her point of view is. No offense, but I’m not real interested in your opinion on a topic if you’ve not demonstrated an understanding of the author’s.

If we watch a film together, or I ask you to this on your own, give it just as much attention as you would a close reading. Don’t multitask.


Write, rewrite, then rewrite some more. Read the prompt carefully, and keep your discourse responsive to it. Attend to everything: depth of ideas, clarity, coherence, organization, diction, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typesetting. Make it pretty. Do not turn in a first draft. While you won’t write that much for this class, I expect you to write in a manner consistent with being an upper-division student at a decent US university.

If you’re used to teachers who ignore “low-level” issues, perhaps telling you that your ideas are all that matters, forget it. First of all, it’s just not true; good ideas are inextricably tied to good expression of them. Indeed the notion that there is meaningful distinction between good ideas and good expression of them is pretty suspect. Second, if you’re capable of good writing, then it’s kind of rude to subject a busy person—Jacob or me!—to bad writing. And rudeness and ethics are, if not siblings, at least close cousins.

But if neither of these two reasons resonate with you, feel free to consider it part of my idiosyncratic character that I get distracted by bad writing and bad typesetting to such an extent that I will be unable to attend to whatever you think is the content. When I see a page of ugly or sloppy prose, it is almost impossible for me to see in it anything else.

All written assignments done outside of class must be typeset and submitted as pdf documents. While scholarly work in academia should normally be done in LaTeX, it’s fine to turn in softcopy produced by Word or the like.

Your typesetting must use justified text (no ragged-right margins) and may not use a monospaced or sans-serif font (e.g., Courier or Arial). Work that violates this request will not be graded.

The sort of things that drive me crazy include: typewriter quotes ("this" instead of “this”) and typewriter apostrophes (Rogaway's class instead of Rogaway’s class); wrong dash lengths (if you never noticed the difference between an em-dash, en-dash, and hyphen, it is past time you did); confusion of i.e. and e.g.; confusion of that and which; missing spaces or extra spaces; references that are nothing but a URL; calling authors or other famous people by their first names, as though they were personal friends of yours.

Please put your name and section number at the top of any written work. If an assignment comes with a length requirement expressed in words, include the word count above. The count should exclude references.

Attendance – Arrival – Classroom Conduct – Academic Misconduct

For a discussion-based class like ours, attendance—indeed active attendance—is important. For a single absence due to an illness, you do not need to provide any documentation beyond an email saying that you were sick. For any subsequent medical absence, make sure to provide documentation. If you know you will miss some class, please let me know in advance what is going on. Sometimes I excuse those and don’t regard it as an absence and sometimes I don’t, but I like to hear from you either way.

Arriving late is disruptive; please arrive on-time. For purposes of marking attendance, you are counted as half here if you arrive even a little late. I often give quizzes in the opening minutes of class. If you arrive late, you will still need to turn in the quiz with everyone else. If you arrive very late, or if you leave early and don’t tell me about it (before or in an email just after), I’ll record it as absent.

Each day, unless I indicate otherwise, please arrange your desks in a circle before class begins. Bring your name card and put it on the front of your desk. I can’t recognize human faces and the name cards are my little trick so that, eventually, I start to feel like I know who you are. Sitting in the same position each class is also helpful for me. Also, not changing your clothes or your hair would help.

Mobile phones brought to class must be turned off or put on silent (not just vibrate) before you walk into the room. The need to be put them in your backpack or purse; do not leave them on your person. Better yet, don’t bring the things to school, or discard them with other electronic waste. The prohibition against using phones in class applies to all uses of them, even as a watch. Use of phones in violation of the stated rules is an instance of academic misconduct. I have in fact sent students to SJA for this, and will actually fail you for it. If some emergency arises such that you must consult a phone or computer, quietly leave the classroom and come back if/when you can.

Similarly, you may not use a conventional laptop in class. E-readers are fine. Tablets and laptops folded flat like a tablet are a boundary case that still troubles me; if you can configure it so that it only displays the reading we are discussing (or, perhaps, allows you to scribble a few notes with a stylus), then maybe it is OK.

Do not audio record, video, or photograph anything during class. In general, no personal electronics devices (excluding hearing aids and watches used only for checking the time) may be used.

Please don’t wear scented products to our class or to my office hours. One person’s nice smell is another person’s toxin. For me, most scented products are asthma-inducing poisons.

Please don’t sleep in class, read the newspaper, or do the hundred other things like that that are obviously rude. This is not a lecture hall of 200 people; this is an intimate class where we aim to interact and get to know one another.

Please listen closely when other people speak. Be polite, even when you strongly disagree with something said. Give everyone a chance to talk. Sometimes this means leaving a longer “whitespace” than you are used to. Don’t monopolize, but do speak up.

We will sometimes discuss contentious, emotional, or personal topics. If you feel inclined to express a political opinion, to say something politically incorrect, to use profanity, to harshly criticize a professor or public figure, to reveal a personal fact or story, and so on—go right ahead. Consider our class a safe place for engaging in free speech. To make this work, please cut others some slack if they say something that offends you. Do not reveal who said what when engaging in discourse with others (unless, of course, they give permission). This is known as the Chatham House Rule, and we will follow it.

In a course in ethics, it would be particularly ironic if people commit acts of academic misconduct. But it is rampant across UCD, and in the CS Department in particular. Make sure you are familiar with UCD’s rules on academic misconduct and the CS Department’s new Academic Misconduct Policy. I follow the misconduct-implies-F policy outlined on that page. In fact, I started it.

Academic misconduct goes beyond obvious things like plagiarism; serious violations of the rules and norms I’ve been talking about is academic misconduct. Some of the more classical rules are as follows. All writing you do must be entirely yours. You may ask a friend or a writing instructor to proofread your work and make suggestions, but it shouldn’t go beyond that, and even that should be acknowledged. Your presentation must likewise must be entirely your own work (you may not rework some related talk that you find). Acknowledge all ideas and quotations; use proper referencing. Obviously you may not purchase your term paper or presentation. All materials you significantly use must be referenced. (Of course you can, and even should, talk to people about what we are reading or talking about.) For your final project, if you have done a related project before, or if you will use your project for some overlapping class, you need to discuss that possibility with me. For a book-based project, you need to disclose when you request the book if you have already read some or all of it. It is an instance of academic misconduct to ask or tell someone in the other section about whether or not there was a quiz, or what it is on. If I pass around a sign-in sheet, it’s academic misconduct to sign-in for someone else, or to ask someone to do this for you. It’s an instance of academic misconduct to claim that you missed a class because of an illness if you weren’t sick. It is academic misconduct to get your attendance recorded and then slip out of class for the remainder (e.g., during the showing of a film). End of obligatory nonsense that should all be obvious.

Emotional Support

What we discuss in this class can be deeply depressing. I would like you to be introspective, and you may at some point not like what you find. I would like you to think and care about where we are headed as a people, and might well be a terrible, dystopian world. Some mental-health resources, if you need them, include the Student Health and Wellness Center and the Office of Student Support. For students having troubles, my door is open, but I myself have no training or expertise in matters of mental health, and I have rarely been accused of making people feel happier than before.

Final Thoughts

If everyone comes to class having done the reading (or watched the video or whatever), and feeling prepared and eager to discuss it, the class works well. Otherwise—maybe not. As with any seminar-format class, you and I share the responsibility for making the class work. I can’t do it on my own. Please take your responsibility as seriously as I do.

The class is a rare opportunity: where else are you invited to stop, step back, and explore the (often grave) ethical issues that we face as human beings and as creators of technological wizardry? And you get to do this with someone who is not only a serious scientist>, but who actually cares about these things. I myself never got to take a class like this. I wish I had. I wonder if my own life’s path would have changed.

I don’t see the topic of this course as “merely” or entirely “academic”. I have no patience for moral philosophy stripped of the imperative to act and to care. My class deliberately does not stay within the traditional confines of computer ethics. If you’ve come expecting some tedious prof to implore you not to use file-sharing networks to get your music, or whatever else you might imagine to be the ethical issues of interest to people in CS, forget it; as you all must know, that is not where our real problems lie. What I myself would like is for both of us to come out of the course not just a little more knowledgeable, but a little better as human beings. A little braver, wiser, and more socially aware. I know that’s a lot to hope for from a 10-week class (more, many would say, that what is realistic), but let us work to make it so.

Phillip Rogaway’s homepage