CHS H206-300
Living in a Digital World: Robots, the Internet, and Society

Spring 2008


Prof. Ian Walker, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Prof. Pamela E. Mack, Department of History

Class meetings: Tuesdays 2:00-4:45 in Hardin 101

Description: This course will explore the impact of robots and the internet on society, past, present and future.  Students will gain an understanding of how ideas about robots (both in science fiction and in reality) and predictions of their impact have changed over time.  We will also study the evolution of the internet and how it makes possible different ways of organizing information and people.  After considering the past and present, we will ask: what do we want these technologies to do for us in the future?  This is a laptop-required course and we will use laptops in class to experiment with the world of the internet.

Requirements: Discussing, analyzing and drawing conclusions from the reading will be central to the course, so it is essential that you do the reading and come prepared to discuss it in class.

No one book provides an overview for this course; you will quickly find yourself lost if you do not attend class.  The attendance policy for this course is as follows. Instead of taking attendance we will show that attendance is expected by asking students to explain all absences (either send a "sorry I missed class" e-mail or speak to Prof. Walker after class when you return). We reserve the right to penalize students with excessive absences (which we would define as missing more than 2 classes).   If the professor or a substitute does not arrive within 10 minutes of the scheduled starting time of the class students may leave.

The class presentation grade will be based on group presentations to the class.  These presentations may involve students explaining and demonstrating communities on the web that others may not be familiar with. The class will work out together the options and topics for these presentations. The topics will be refined via short preview presentations of each project early in the semester, with detailed presentations given later in the semester. We expect each group to go into depth on their chosen topic.

The term paper should be about 8-10 typed pages and should be documented with footnotes or endnotes.   We are looking for papers based on primary source research that deal with society's ideas about robots or the internet.  Papers must be analytical; that is, they must ask a question or state a thesis and then develop an argument using specific evidence to prove a point. Papers will be evaluated primarily on the basis of your ability to use evidence and argument to effectively prove your point. Another key evaluation criteria will be for the narrative to go beyond content covered in class. For more information see the Paper Assignment.  Late papers will be downgraded five points (out of one hundred) for each calendar day late. 

Academic Integrity: As members of the Clemson University community, we have inherited Thomas Green Clemson's vision of this institution as a "high seminary of learning."  Fundamental to this vision is a mutual commitment to truthfulness, honor, and responsibility, without which we cannot earn the trust and respect of others.  Furthermore, we recognize that academic dishonesty detracts from the value of a Clemson degree.  Therefore, we shall not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing in any form.  This includes representing someone else's work as your own or handing in the same paper to two different courses without permission of the instructors.


20% midterm exam
25% term paper
20% class presentations
10% class participation
25% final exam

Numerical grades out of 100 will be converted to final letter grades by the system 90-100=A, 80-89=B, 70-79=C, 60-69=D, below 60=F. 

Required Reading:

Karel Capek, RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots): a short play written in 1920
Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine: a history of the computer
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock: classic futurist literature
Marge Piercy, He, She, and It: classic science fiction
Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence: radical predictions for the future published in 1988 by a robotics professor
David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder: how the digital world is changing our lives today


Jan. 15: introduction and film

Jan. 22: Early dreams of robots: RUR, notes

Jan. 29: History of computers, Campbell-Kelly/Aspray chapters 1-6, notes

Feb. 5: More history of computers, Campbell-Kelly/Aspray chapters 7-12, notes

Feb. 12: Toffler, chs. 1-7, Midterm exam,notes

Feb. 19: Toffler, chs. 9-12, 15-20, group presentation previews (1), notes

Feb. 26: Piercy through ch. 26, group presentation previews (2), notes

Mar. 4: Piercy, ch. 27 to end, notes

Mar. 11: Artificial intelligence: Moravec chapters 1-3,  paper topics due, notes

Mar 18: Spring break

Mar. 25: What happens when robots are more intelligent than humans?  Moravec, chapters 4-6, notes

Apr. 1: Weinberger chapters 1-5.  notes

Apr. 8: paper due, Class presentations: election, military robotics, digital divide

Apr. 15: Class presentations:  Wikipedia,  internet dating, multiplayer games

Apr. 22: Weinberger chapters 6-10, our visions for the future, notes

Apr. 30 final exam due