CS/INFO 1305Computation & Culture in the Digital Age

Course Description

Computing and information science is relevant to many aspects of our lives, from explorations in science and medicine, the arts, to commerce and entertainment. This course explores some ideas and technologies of computing and information science as well as their role in society from the ethical, legal, historical, and cultural perspectives. Students are introduced to the user-centered development life cycle for web site design with a focus on critique and usability testing. Students are exposed to some of the underpinnings of modern artificial intelligence and they learn fundamental computer programming concepts through the manipulation of digital media. Through discussion, debate, and writing, this course also explores the rewards, challenges, and opportunities presented by the rapid evolution and adoption of computing and information technologies.

Dr. K.-Y. Daisy Fan dfan at cs.cornell.edu
Teaching Assistants
Sergio Da Silva smd322 at cornell.edu
Yue Gao ygao at cs.cornell.edu
Jacob Padilla jsp264 at cornell.edu
Course Websites

Times and Places

The typical meeting locations are given below. See the detailed schedule for the actual locations and meeting times for specific days.

9:00-10:15am and 10:30-11:45am
403 Phillips Hall
1:15-2:45pm and 3:00-4:30pm
ACCEL Blue Room (Carpenter Hall)


All homework and tests must be completed at their scheduled time unless your request for special accommodation has been approved before the deadline. Any request for test-taking accommodation must be made during the first week of the course. Homework is due at 10pm unless otherwise noted.

artificial intelligence
computer programming
discussion--information and culture
human-computer interaction

Sunday, 12 July

3:00-4:00pm (Mallott 406)

Monday, 13 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
What is CIS? Course mechanics
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Social informatics, ethics & law
Time for registration/supplies
2:30-3:45 (Uris Aud)
College admissions workshop
Reading 1

Tuesday, 14 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
Artificial Intelligence
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Natural language processing & information retrieval
1:15-2:15 (ACCEL)
Lab: Websearch & NACLO problems
2:30-4:30 (UP 111)
Reading 1
AI lab 1

Wednesday, 15 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
Ethical frameworks & copyright
10:30-11:45 (ACCEL)
Guest speaker: Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil
1:15-2:45 (ACCEL)
Explore Matlab (Lab files)
3:00-4:30 (ACCEL)
Explore Piazza, CMS, language game
AI lab 1
Reading 2

Thursday, 16 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Guest Speaker: Erik Andersen on game design
1:15-2:45 (ACCEL)
Branching and loops
3:00-4:15 (ACCEL)
Exercise (Example files)
Reading 2
Prog Ex 1
Reading on AI/robotics

Friday, 17 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
10:30-11:45 (Gates 114)
Computer vision/graphics demo/talk
Reading 3

Sunday, 19 July

Reading 3
Reading on robotics

Monday, 20 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
Cybernetics & automation
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Reinforcement Learning
1:15-2:15 (Gates 114)
Emotion and Robotics
2:30-3:45 (ACCEL)
Reinforcement Learning Lab
Prog Ex 1 due at 6pm
Reading 4
AI lab 2: reinforcement learning

Tuesday, 21 July

9:00-9:50 (PH 403)
Debate/Project Topics Overview
10:05-11:45 (PH 403)
Test 1
1:15-2:45 (ACCEL)
Functions, nested loops
3:00-4:30 (ACCEL)
Exercise Example files
AI lab 2: reinforcement learning
Term paper and final project
Prog Ex 2

Wednesday, 22 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
Information architecture
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Web design--navigation
1:15-2:30 (UP 111)
Human-Computer Interaction
2:45-4:30 (ACCEL)
Usability test plan
HCI Ex 1
Prog Ex 2
HCI Ex 1
HCI Ex 2

Thursday, 23 July

9:00-10:15 (UP B7)
Library research
10:30-11:45 (PH 403)
Big data and deep Learning
1:15-2:30 (ACCEL)
2:45-4:30 (ACCEL)
Reading 4
Prog Ex 3

Friday, 24 July

9:00-10:15 (PH 403)
History of digital age & free speech
10:30-11:45 (Gates 114)
Guest lecture: Ross Knepper on robotics
HCI Ex 2
Final Project mini proposal

Sunday, 26 July

Prog Ex 3

Monday, 27 July

8:25-9:00 (HEB)
3-d body scanning lab (Group 1 only)
9:15-10:20 (HEB)
3-d scanning & printing (Group 1 only)
10:45-11:45 (Gates 114)
Usability test
1:45-3:05 (UP 111)
Test 2
Study/work period
HCI Ex 3

Tuesday, 28 July

8:25-9:00 (HEB)
3-d body scanning lab (Group 2 only)
9:15-10:20 (HEB)
3-d scanning & printing (Group 2 only)
Preparation for debate
1:15-4:00 (Malott Bache Aud)
Debate (topics and teams)
Draft paper due at 1pm

Wednesday, 29 July

8:25-9:00 (HEB)
3-d body scanning lab (Group 3 only)
9:15-10:20 (HEB)
3-d scanning & printing (Group 3 only)
10:45-11:45 (ACCEL)
Media computation (image, Example files)
1:15-4:00 (ACCEL)
Media computation and study/work period (Optional Level 2: sound & Lab 5)
7:00PM (Kennedy Aud)
Guest lecture: Kavita Bal on Virtual Realism and Computer Graphics
HCI Ex 3
Prog Ex 4

Thursday, 30 July

9:00-10:15 (UP 111)
Game theory
10:30-11:45 (PH 203)
Project presentations (see Piazza for list of early presenters)
1:15-3:30 (ACCEL)
AI/Theory: Fair division, Game design and research
Study/work period
Prog Ex 4

Friday, 31 July

9:00-11:15 (Gates 114)
Project presentations
Final paper due at 5pm


Consult the schedule for reading due dates.

You may find it useful to read the abstract and/or introduction carefully. This will give you a sense of the themes and the arguments that the author(s) intends to make. Academic conclusions tend to list limitations of the research and suggest further lines of inquiry. The key for you, beyond understanding the intensions of the author(s), is to develop and clearly articulate your own position/opinion/response to the reading. It is not enough to simply agree or disagree - offer theoretical and/or empiracal justification! The reading questions may well help guide your understanding and thinking - you do not have to answer them directly.

You can respond to the reading questions individually or as a unified essay. The length should be two paragraphs (although less or more is fine as long as you answer them with sufficient clarity and completeness. Try as much as possible to provide concrete examples that are not from the reading.

Rationale for distinguishing among grades

Reading 1

Reading Questions:

  • What does the "iron cage" refer to? Do you think it supports technological or social determinism? Why or why not?
  • What is the difference between negative and positive freedoms / liberty?
  • What are natural laws? Do they favor increased government regulation of the internet?
  • What does the categorical imperative refer to in Kant's moral philosophy? Can you apply the categorical imperative to the use of cell phones in public spaces? Why or why not?
  • Does Lessig employ consequentialist or deontological justifications for allowing the internet to operate as a creative commons?
  • Where do you stand on the Yahoo case study issue?
  • The textbook has further prompts for this section on p 25.

Reading 2

Reading Questions

  • How would you define privacy? Is it a moral concept, legal construct, governmental policy, a set of organizational principles or some combination of them all? If so explain how and why privacy works in cyberspace AND in your daily life by providing an example. Is privacy a universal right in the Kantian sense or a something that is culturally relative?
  • What approach did the Direct Marketing Association want the U.S. government to adopt? What was the basis of their argument? Do you agree with their position? If so, what is the basis for your agreement. If you disagree, explain why.
  • How can self-regulation of privacy work? Can it be more efficient than relying on legal protections or governmental/industry/university policies?
  • What is HIPPA? Why was it created? Do you think it is too stringent and increases the difficulty of obtaining personal information and sharing it with others (like family members)?
  • How much privacy protection should companies provide for their employees?
  • List two major differences between the U.S. and the European Union (EU) in devising and enforcing privacy laws. Which do you prefer? Why? Should there be a global privacy protection that is similar to a universal human right?

Reading 3

Reading Questions

  • The article by Prof. Terrell Ward Bynum analyzes Norbert Wiener's views on the positive and negative aspects of the "automatic age." What is cybernetics? Is cybernetics a Utopian idea? Do you think the development of "information and communication ethics" has any impact on Lessig's vision of a creative commons?
  • Why was Norbert Wiener so worried about divergences in time scales in his article entitled,"Some Moral and Technical Consequences of Automation." Do you think this is as much of a problem today as he thought?
  • What kind of game did Princeton mathematician John von Neumann event/discover? How was it applied by the military? Is it still being used today? Can you think of any moral and political problems that such gaming can produce?
  • Wiener claims that "The human brain is a far more efficient control apparatus than is the intelligent machine when we come to the higher areas of logic." Do you agree? if so, what evidence is there? If you disagree, provide some examples of how control can lead to very dangerous problems?
  • Arthur L. Samuel worked as a researcher at IBM when he responded to Wiener's article on automation. Samuel claimed that Wiener was exaggerating about the power of machines. Do you think Samuel's argument is convincing? Why or why not?

Reading 4

  • Textbook: Free Speech and Content Controls in Cyberspace. pp 57-97
  • Bush: As We May Think. The Atlantic Online, 1945.

Reading Questions

  • At the beginning of Section 1 in "As We May Think," Vannevar Bush makes the following claim:
    "Of what lasting benefit has man's use of science and of the new instruments which his research brought into existence? First, they have increased his control of his material environment. They have improved his food, his clothing, hid shelter; they have increased his security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence. They have given him increasing knowledge of his own biological processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an increasing span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his physiological and psychological Technology policy functions, giving the promise of improved mental health."
    Imagine you have been appointed Director of Science, Technology and Humanitarian Policy by President Obama. Your task in the first part of this writing assignment is to write a short memo. In your memo describe the vision of what you hope to achieve, your funding priorities; the governmental agencies that will be needed to assist you; the people and groups you will form alliances with in order to build public support for your plans; and the time/schedule for completion of the first phase of your project. Defend your choices using a mixture of ethical theories and empirical facts. For example, if you want to target funding to help people in Africa with new strains of Tuberculosis (TB) who are migrating to the U.S., then explain how this initiative will help the U.S., its global image and help reduce a devastating disease by increasing funding at university-based science and engineering labs (like Cornell). Finally, compare how your vision of the world compares with Vannevar Bush’s ideas 70 years later. (This should take about 1 page)
  • Do bloggers deserve the same privileges to protect their sources as do regular journalists? (Read about the dilemmas on page 83 in Spinello).

Reading on AI/Robotics

Sutton book chapter on reinforcement learning. Read Sections 1.1 to 1.5.

Reading Questions

  • What does the "reward function" refer to?
  • Give a real world example of an animal applying the "reinforcement learning" scheme to achieve a goal.



  • Required textbook: Cyberethics: Morality and Law in Cyberspace
  • Optional material: a portable memory device (e.g., a memory stick)

Class Files

Please note: lecture notes are linked to in the above schedule.

Programming Lab 1: Exploring Matlab

Programming Lab 2: Branching and for-loop

Programming Lab 3: Loops and Functions

Programming Lab 4: Vectors

Programming Lab 5: Media Computation (Vector & Matrices)

Class Photos and Body Scanner "Movies"


You must adhere to the Code of Academic Integrity for all work.

Items that count towards your course grade include homework, lab exercises, two tests, a term paper (including a debate), a final presentation, and participation in discussion. Given the broad range of topics covered in the course, "homework" appears in different forms, including reading, pre-discussion questions, post-discussion notes, programming assignments, problem sets, and writing assignments.

Lab exercises and homework
Tests (2)
Term paper and debate
Final presentation

Office Hours

Office Hour is time outside of scheduled classes during which you can get help on course material. The instructor or a teaching assistant (TA) will be able to answer your questions. Just "walk in" - no appointment is necessary. Revised hours for the final week are shown below:

Monday 2:30-4:30pm
Jake in ACCEL computer lab
Tuesday 4:30-6pm
Dr. Fan in Gates 459
Tuesday 7-8:30pm
Jake in RPCC computer lab
Wednesday 3:30-5pm
Yue in ACCEL computer lab
Thursday 3:30-5pm
Sergio in ACCEL computer lab
Thursday 7-8:30pm
Yue in RPCC computer lab
Friday 11:15am-12:45pm
Sergio in ACCEL computer lab

Street Crowd Game

This is Professor Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil's collaborative game for guessing a geographic location based on Google's Street View. Keep playing.

Game to Learn Japanese

Instructions to start the game:
  1. 1. Click the game link on Erik's website (http://www.cs.cornell.edu/~eland/crystallize.html)
  2. 2. Open the folder that the game downloaded to
  3. 3. Extract the file and click crystallize.exe in the extracted folder
  4. 4. In the settings that pop up, change "Resolution" to the highest available option and "Quality" to "Fastest"
  5. 5. When the game loads. press "Load" and enter your user name--the one you used on the fist day.
If the game crashes at some point, the best option is to just close it (Alt-F4 should do this) and then reopen. The progress is saved automatically every 3 minutes or so, and should also save when the application closes.

Academic Integrity

Simply put, academic integrity is about respecting yourself and respecting others. You respect yourself by submitting work completed through your own effort; you respect others by acknowledging contribution from others when such external contribution is allowed, e.g., for group projects. You can always seek help from the course staff, but when your individual effort is required you may neither seek nor accept help from others. You must read the Code of Academic Integrity on the course website. Ignorance of the Code is not an acceptable excuse.

You can view Cornell's full Code of Academic Integrity for more details.

CS/INFO 1305 (Summer 2015)