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Computing Starters: Social, Ethical, Economic and Philosophical issues

A collection of websites, articles and resources that can be used as quick starters

Peter Kemp

Created by Peter Kemp
last edited Jan 24 2021 by Peter Kemp

[A few suggestions for computing lesson starters in the area of Social, Ethical, Economic and Philosophical issues. Note this is a wiki, please add and edit!

Level: KS4/KS5/CPD

Link: Chapter 5: “Your Inner Drone”. Nicholas Carr (2015) The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us. Bodley Head

Description: Excellent general chapter on a number of ethical and moral issues associated with computing technology. Discusses driverless cars, military automata, soft spying by ubiquitous technology. Certainly accessible to teachers on CPD, KS5 and some KS4. “The age of ethical systems is upon us. If autonomous machine are to be set loose in the world, moral codes will have to be translated, however imperfectly, into software codes.”

Level: KS5/CPD

Link: Centre for Responsible Innovation in ICT

Description: Information and communication technology (ICT) creates huge benefits and has numerous uses. It pervades our personal and professional lives. Despite the many advantages of ICT, there are numerous examples of problems and downsides. ICT can lead to new privacy issues, raises security concerns, can deskill labour or support surveillance. Researchers and innovators in the area of ICT as well as other stakeholders in innovation processes have the opportunity and maybe the duty to consider their role and influence on the desired and undesired consequences of ICT

Level: (KS3 / KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description: Where does America’s e-waste end up? GPS tracker tells all

Questions: How can we be sure where our waste ends up? How much harm are we doing the planet by using computers? Did you need to upgrade your mobile phone?

Link: PBS article (including video)

Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description: An overview of what Bitcoin is and how it works. How is bitcoin related to the traditional ideas of money

Questions: What makes money money? Would you trust a distributed money system? Why allow bitcoin when it can be used by people to buy illegal things? Who should control money? “Give unto Caeser what belongs to caeser”?

Link: LRB article

Level: KS2 / KS3 / KS4

Description: Google sets up ‘right to be forgotten’ form after EU ruling

Questions: - How could data about you get online? Are you always in control of this data? - Why might someone want to delete data that is about them? - Should people have the right to delete data about themselves online? – What data should people have a right to delete? – Who might abuse the right to delete data? (link to 1984 here?) - Who owns data about you online? - Does Google deleting a link to people’s information mean that the data has disappeared?

Link: (includes video)

Level: (KS2 / KS3 / KS4)

Description: Google is to start building its own self-driving cars

Questions: - It is predicted that self-driving cars will be safer than people. Should we ban people from driving? - The front brake on a self-driving car is broken, the car only has the choice to swerve and hit an eleven year old child or a couple in their twenties. What would you program the car to do? - Who do you think might lose their jobs if a self-driving cars become popular? – Is there a job that computers shouldn’t/couldn’t do? - Self-driving cars use GPS, a system run by the US government, should Chinese cars use GPS?

Link: (includes video)

Level: (KS3 / KS4)

Description: Who’s Ready to Be a Cyborg?

Questions: - What makes us different from robots? - If a robot is programmed to say ‘Ow!’ when it stubs its toe, does it feel pain? - Would you want a robot for a friend? - What would stop you becoming a cyborg? - Should there be limits on cyborgs or robots being used in war? - What rules would you give a robot if you were programming it to make sure that they could live safely with humans. For example: “Robots shouldn’t kill people”. (link to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics)


Level: (KS3 / KS4)

Description: Computer becomes first to pass Turing Test in artificial intelligence milestone, but academics warn of dangerous future

Questions: - what makes something intelligent? - is the turing test a good test of intelligence? - if something looks, sounds and acts as a human, is it human? - what makes you different from a computer that acts like you? - why do we need computers to act like people?


Level: (KS5 / UG)

Description: The Robots are coming

Questions: - If Robots take over all the jobs, what will people do? - Are there any jobs that robots cannot do? - Are some jobs more suited to robots than others? - Should we stop developing technology so that we don’t make ourselves obsolete?


Level: (KS5 / UG)

Description: The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld

Questions: What things should and shouldn’t be allowed on the internet? Should onion routers be banned? How much power should governments have over what people see online? What is the difference between what the chinese government blocks on he internet and what the british government blocks? How far should free speech be allowed? Does toleration include tolerating the intolerant?


Level: (KS5 / UG)

Description: The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz

Questions: Can groups of people such as those organised on the internet, have as much impact as well connected individuals? Should all academic research be free? How should we fund the dissemination of academic literature? What is the creative commons license?


Level: (KS5 / UG)

Description: Schadenfreude with Bite

Questions: Does the anonymous nature of the internet make people meaner? What limits should we place on internet speech? What are the limits of tolerance?


Level: KS3 / KS4 /KS5 / UG

Description: Professional Software Development and Ethical Responsibility

Questions: How can we be sure that our work in computing is socially responsible, robust and fit for purpose? SEERI has some useful starting points for teachers of more mature students, particularly those aiming for a career in computing. While this is not really accessible to the majority of secondary age students it could form a useful basis for teachers to introduce and develop a model of Computational Thinking that goes a little beyond the formal, procedural 4-step model promoted by Google and others to include such aspects as social responsibility.

Don Gotterbarn is the Director of SEERI the Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute

(See also Don Gotterbarn’s personal page.

Both Don’s personal home page and the SEERI site have an interesting collection of materials including a number of useful case studies.

Of particular interest perhaps is the International Standard for Professional Software Development and Ethical Responsibility. For example see Principle 1.

Note these sites are a little dated in places. Some links broken. But still some value here.

Level: ( KS3 / KS4 / CPD)

Description:description of the origin, functioning, benefits and drawbacks of the gig economy

Questions: should work be a game? Should we have steady reliable jobs or get people to work only when they want to? Should people be aware of why they are paid what they are paid? Would you work harder if we gamified school? How could/do we gamify school?


Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description An overview of Google’s dealings with the US military and state

Questions Should businesses avoid work with the military? Should businesses seek to change governments? What does “do no evil?” mean for tech companies? Why do you think that Google makes Google docs free for schools? Are there technologies that people shouldn’t make?


Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description When Chinese hackers declared war on the rest of us. Description of a DDoS attack on github and hacking on Tibetan government officials, by an organisation (alledgedly) linked to China.

Questions How do you stay safe online? Should hacking be treated as severly as making war on another country? Has the internet brought more benefits to society than drawbacks? Is the internet good or bad for democracy?


Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description A description of the history of the internet and big data in China, from the idealistic (in terms of the western commentators) early years to more recent crack downs on freedoms and the use of data to control and manipulate the population. Parallels are drawn here between a state’s control of user data western companies. Some interesting comments about the ‘Zuck’.

Questions Is the internet a force for freedom and democracy or a force for state control? Should we be more scared of states or businesses using our data? How much is your identity worth?


Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description Review of Edward Snowden’s biography outlining his life

Questions Was Snowden right to leak the information he did? How should we balance the power of the state to protect us and the rights of individuals? Who should police the internet? Is freedom of speech a utopia?


Level: ( KS4 / KS5 / CPD)

Description Outline of the limitations and problems of AI



General resource list:

Link: Amanda Wilson’s CAS Resource Page

Link: Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

Book: Philosophy, Computing and Information Science

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