Ethics and Computer Science
Syllabus, lectures, and other materials — Spring 2017

From Oxford Online, we find these definitions:

   philosophy: The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.

   ethics: Moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity.

Syllabus and schedule


Class notes

Reading assignment for weeks 1 and 2

Gift of Fire, chapter 1 "Unwrapping the Gift".

Plato's Euthyphro (audio version is available here.)

Excerpt from Mill's Utilitarianism

Excerpt from Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

Reading assignment for weeks 3 and 4

Gift of Fire, chapter 2 "Privacy".

Nicomachean Ethics, Books I-III

Aristotle's Ethics

Reading assignment for weeks 5 and 6

Gift of Fire, chapter 3 "Freedom of Speech" and chapter 4 "Intellectual Property".

Reading assignment for weeks 7 and 8

Gift of Fire, chapter 5 "Crime"


Reading assignment for weeks 9 and 10

Gift of Fire, chapter 6 "Work"

Reading assignment for weeks 11 and 12

Gift of Fire, chapter 7 "Evaluating and Controlling Technology" and chapter 8 "Errors, Failures, and Risks"

Reading assignment for weeks 13 and 14

Gift of Fire, chapter 9 "Professional Ethics and Responsibilities"

Other material

Obligatory xkcd:


Research Ethics


Trolley Problem


The Three Laws of Robotics

Worth Noting Now

2017-01-09: CODE 2018: ACM's revision process for its Code of Ethics: the current draft and a request for comments

News Items

2017-01-09: Do you own your own fingerprints?

2017-01-09: Makers of Self Driving Cars Ask What to Do With Human Nature

2017-01-09: Driverless Cars: Who Gets Protected

2017-01-09: The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles

2017-01-09: Save the Driver or Save the Crowd?

2017-01-09: Dallas Shooter Killed By Bomb Robot In Policing First

2017-01-11: Finding inspiration for art in the betrayal of privacy

Various Ethics-oriented Online Resources

Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science

Collection of ethical code URLs from NC State

Teaching Computer Ethics

Commentary on the first revision of the ACM's Code of Ethics (that is, the transition from the 1972 to the 1992 versions)

Computer and Information Ethics (in particular, see the Uniqueness debate between Maner and Johnson)

Virtue Ethics

Deontological Ethics


2017-01-11: Bynum: Computer ethics: Its birth and its future

2017-01-11: Johnson: Computer systems: Moral entities but not moral agents

2017-01-11: A view from the White House on the impact of automation on the economy

2017-02-15: New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk

2017-02-15: Algorithms Secretly Run the World

2017-02-15: Weapons of Math Destruction

2017-02-20: Fearful of Hacking, Dutch Will Count Ballots by Hand

2017-02-21: It is too easy to steal a second-hand connected car

2017-03-08: Wikileaks Vault 7, Year 0

2017-03-08: Six interesting bits from Vault 7

2017-03-08: A member of Lawfare's initial take on Vault 7

2017-03-08: Another member of Lawfare's initial take on Vault 7

2017-03-08: Cyberwarfare against North Korea

2017-03-27: A Call to Let's Encrypt: Stop Issuing "PayPal" Certificates

2017-03-27: Let's Encrypt Has Issued Certificates to Over 14,000 PayPal Phishing Sites

2017-03-27: Let's Encrypt Are Enabling the Bad Guys and Why They Should

2017-03-27: Bill Gates Versus the Robots

2017-03-27: The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers from the Rise of Robots

2017-03-28: After 12 Rejects, Apple Accepts App that That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes

2017-03-29: Automation is set to hit workers in developing countries hard (Fourth Industrial Revolution)

2017-03-29: WhatsAPp must be accessible to authorities, says Amber Rudd

2017-03-29: No 10 Repeats Rudd's call for authorities to access encrypted messages

2017-03-29: The Importance of Strong Encryption to Security

2017-04-10: Vigilanteism: How to force manufacturers to take IOT security seriously

2017-04-10: Autonomity: Robot Surgeon Bests Human Surgeons

2017-04-10: Hand-to-hand cyberwar

2017-04-10: Some of the Equation Group's targets

2017-04-10: If Animals have rights, should robots also?

2017-04-10: World Economic Forum's Top 9 Ethical Issues in Artificial Intelligence

2017-04-10: Machine Ethics: The Robot's Dilemma

2017-04-11: The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI

2017-04-11: China Moves to Further TIghten Regulation of Digital Information

2017-04-11: Chinese Firm Cuts Costs by Hiring Army of Robots

2017-04-12: Florida's current Good Samaritan statute

2017-04-12: Three Challenges for the Web

2017-04-12: Computing and Moral Responsibility

2017-04-14: Russian Humanoid Robots Learns to Shoot

2017-04-17: Uber for Carjacking

2017-04-17: Can Liberty Survive the Digital Age?

2017-04-17: United States Air Force Demonstrates Autonomously Controlled F16

2017-04-17: OpenRobotEthics

2017-04-17: Autonomous Weapons

2017-04-17: Autodraw

2017-04-17: Autodraw review

2017-04-17: Rules for Robots?

2017-04-17: Should Autonomous Cars Be Forced to Save Lives?

2017-04-17: Robots and Agriculture

2017-04-19: Hajime, mo

2017-04-19: Apple Removes New York Times Apps from Its Store in China


Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence

Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

Norbert Weiner, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (abbreviated HUHB in the notes.)


Excerpt from The Grand Design episode of "Yes, Prime Minister"

The Future of Employment (PDF)

How Aristotle Created the Computer