Ethics for Nerds Sarah Sterz, Kevin Baum, Holger Hermanns

Registration for this course is open until Friday, 30.04.2021 23:59.



Welcome to Ethics for Nerds! 👋

Hello everybody,

Thanks for joining Ethics for Nerds! We’re happy that all of you are here and we’re looking forward to a great (yet remote) semester with you.

Kick-Off Meeting
There will be a kick-off meeting on Wednesday, 14 April, at 14:15 in our team in... Read more

Hello everybody,

Thanks for joining Ethics for Nerds! We’re happy that all of you are here and we’re looking forward to a great (yet remote) semester with you.

Kick-Off Meeting
There will be a kick-off meeting on Wednesday, 14 April, at 14:15 in our team in the university's MS Teams. We will walk you through everything you have to know about the course, answer your questions, and probably have some fun with trains. While we look forward to getting to know you all, attendance in the kick-off session is completely optional. Everything that is important will also be on the General Information page. So, don’t worry if you can’t make it.

Grouping Process
You will be part of a group of three to five people. You will have to discuss with your group members and you can solve assignments together. You can either find a group by yourselves, or you will be grouped by us based on your time slot preferences. (Once you are grouped, you can change meeting times as you wish. We suggest an hour per week.)

If you want to be grouped by us: just indicate your time preferences to us on your personal status page in the dcms by April 17. In this case, we will assume that you want to discuss in English.

If you want to find a group by yourself: one team member has to send us an email with the names of the all team members and your meeting time by April 17. Make sure to pick a meeting time that is ok for all group members. You can use the Forum to find a group, e.g. if you prefer to discuss in a language other than English.

The first week
The lecture officially starts with our kick-off on Wednesday and the first batch of lecture materials will be uploaded after our meeting. If you don’t want to wait that long, feel free to check out the first lecture module in the Materials section of the dcms. It will spawn on Monday morning.

General Information
You can find all kind of information on the dcms page called General Information. Be sure to check it out some time, as it tells you what you have to do to succeed in Ethics for Nerds.

We are looking forward to an exciting semester!
Your Ethics for Nerds team


Ethics for Nerds

Time: whenever you want
Place: online
You can register here.

Many computer scientists will be confronted with morally difficult situations at some point in their career – be it in research, in business, or in industry. Ethics for Nerds equips you with the crucial assets enabling you to recognize such situations, and to devise ways to arrive at a justified moral judgment regarding the question of what you are permitted to do and what you should better not do. For that, you will be made familiar with moral theories from philosophy, as well as different Codes of Ethics for computer scientists. Since one can quickly get lost when talking about ethics and morals, it is especially important to talk and argue clearly and precisely. In order to prepare you for that, Ethics for Nerds trains your formal and informal argumentation skills enabling you to argue beyond the level of everyday discussions at bars and parties. In the end, you will be able to assess a morally controversial topic from computer science on your own and give a convincing argument for your assessment.

Ethics for Nerds is intended to always be as clear, precise, and analytic as possible. What you won't find here is the meaningless bla-bla, needlessly poetic language, and vague and wordy profundity that some people tend to associate with philosophy. You will, however, get many interesting insights into philosophy, ethics, and computer science – or so we have been told.

This course is a Vertiefungsvorlesung and worth 6 CP. All bachelor and master students are welcome!




This course covers:

  • an introduction to the methods of philosophy, argumentation theory, and the basics of normative as well as applied ethics;
  • relevant moral codices issued by professional associations like the ACM, the IEEE, and more;
  • starting points to evaluate practices and technologies already in use or not that far away, including for instance: filter bubbles and echo chambers, ML-algorithms as predictive tools, GPS-tracking, CCTV and other tools from surveillance, fitness trackers, big data analysis, autonomous vehicles, lethal autonomous weapons systems and so on;
  • an outlook on more futuristic topics like machine ethics, roboethics, and superintelligences;
  • and more.


We expect basic knowledge of propositional and first-order logic, an open mind, and interest to look at computer science in ways you probably are not used to.

The lecture and all its materials are in English, but if you feel more comfortable to write assignments and exams in German, you are invited to do so. For this course you should at least have a level of either German or English that is equivalent to a C1 level (see here for further details). We do not need any formal proof that you fulfil the requirements, but we recommend taking them seriously. If you are in any doubt whether this course is suitable for you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.


Naturally, Ethics for Nerds will be an online course in the summer term of 2021. You will be introduced to new content via lecture videos that you can go though in your own pace. Each section of videos is accompanied by training exercises with solutions. We will also have virtual office hours where you can get in touch with us. You will be part of a group, in which you will have to discuss weekly discussion questions (or any relevant topic that you are interested in). You can also help each other with the content of the lecture and you can work together in many assignments in order to get the exam admission.

In the end, you will have to write a term paper in which you lay down an own argument for a moral claim. Both the exam and the re-exam most likely will be take-home exams, such that you can do the whole course at home without risking an infection.

Literature (not mandatory)

Upon request, we added some literature that may be interesting to read before the course. Reading this, however, is not mandatory! We will cover everything that you will need to know during the course (except for the presuppositions above). You will not have a disadvantage if you do not read any of the literature that follows:

  1. Moor, J. H. (1985). What is computer ethics?. Metaphilosophy, 16(4), 266-275.
    A rather old paper that is nevertheless still very relevant today. Available here.
  2. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    This is the wikipedia of philosophy. Many (though not all) of the articles there are high-quality. Among others, the following articles are relevant for Ethics for Nerds and are relatively easy to understand without a philosophical background:
  3. Another resourse of material can be the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in particular the following articles:
  4. Rosenberg, J. F. (1984). The practice of philosophy: A handbook for beginners.
    If you are very much into philosophy, you can also dive a little deeper into the daily business of philosophers by having a look at this all-time-classic introduction to being a philosopher. Sadly, the English edition of this book is usually very expensive, but you will find the book in the SULB and in the philosophy library.

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