Registration for this course is open until Thursday, 25.04.2024 23:59.

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Ethics for Nerds

Time: Monday, 10-12 
Place: GHH (building E2 2)

Due to the semester kick-off on April 15, Ethics for Nerds will start on Monday, April 22.

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 moral problems you will encounter. 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 also covers what is usually known as "Critical Thinking". 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 ECTS-points. All bachelor and master students (of all subjects) are welcome! :)

Contents

This course covers:

  • an introduction to the methods of philosophy and the basics of normative as well as applied ethics;
  • relevant moral codices issued by professional associations like the ACM, the IEEE, and more;
  • argumentation theory (also known as "Critical Thinking")
  • 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;
  • and more.

Presuppositions

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. (If you come from a subject of study that usually does not cover logics, you can nevertheless take the course. Just get in touch with us before.)

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 these 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.

Organization

There is a weekly lecture as well as office hours and different kinds of tutorials that you can (but to not have to) attend. In order to get the exam admission, you will do small assignments and a project in which you will become part of a fictitious Ethical Review Board. Your final grade will be determined by the exam (or the re-exam).

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 resource 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. The German translation is equally good as the English original.
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