Group Project Assignment
We are asking you to form a group of three like-minded
persons, agree upon a topic that you wish to investigate, do the research,
write and deliver a class presentation, and field questions from the class.
This is an opportunity for you to follow your curiosity. Please take the
time to select a project that genuinely peeks your curiosity. You
should take this opportunity to do something that will genuinely advance
We have some ideas about topics that you might want to
explore. Some of these are topics that we will discuss in class and
others are not scheduled for in-class discussion. You should not
in any way feel constrained by what we suggest. You can develop topics
that are of interest to you and that you think will be of interest to the
class. Possible topics could include any of the following ideas:
You could explore the issue of sales tax on on-line purchases.
Currently on-line sales are not taxed. This reduces the general revenue
available to states that have a sales tax. It also gives a competitive
advantage to on-line merchants vis-a-vis merchants who sell through catalogs
or through "brick and mortar stores". Those who resist sales taxes
for on-line purchases point out that there are numerous tax incentives
and tax breaks given to traditional merchants and that there is already
an even playing field. This is currently a hot topic. You could
explore this debate and present your policy recommendations.
In the not too distant future, we will develop robots that
have software that functions in a way that is outwardly indistinguishable
from the behavior of human beings. If Alvin Turing is correct, such
a program would actually be intelligent. Think, for example, of C3PO
from Star Wars or of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
There are several projects that you could do from here. First, is
such a thing really possible? Second, even if it were possible, is
there any reason to think that such a being deserves special treatment?
That is, should such a being be included in the category of "person" such
that it would have rights, autonomy, freedom of conscience, and freedom
of choice? Could it be that such a being would need to be treated
as equivalent to a human being such that intentionally destroying it would
warrant a murder charge?
Star Trek introduces us to the notion of a "holodeck".
This is an extremely advanced virtual world where people can go to have
experiences and adventures in an artificially constructed world.
Some people would say that the "unreality" of that world diminishes the
value of the time spent there. If, for example, a person were to
so enjoy their time there that they preferred going there to interacting
with real people in the real world, this would be seen as a problem and
as an indication of a problem that needs therapy and remediation.
Your project could be to explore the complexities in making such judgments.
There are multiple analogies that shed doubt on such a conclusion.
Admittedly the holodeck is an extreme example. If you'd like, you
can focus your exploration of these issues by focusing on MUDs, MOOs, or
other forms of virtual communities that are a reality today.
As our society becomes increasingly wired, it is going to
become increasingly more difficult to prevent others from gathering information
about you that you would prefer to keep confidential. There are hundreds
of ways that government agencies and corporate entities can gather information
about you. What they do with that information, once they have it,
is largely beyond your control. And our current laws provide individuals
with very limited protection. This problem extends from companies
that send you "cookies" when you click on their web site, to insurance
companies that trade your medical records, all the way to the possibility
that your genetic profile might be accessible to others. The scope
of this problem is limitless. There are companies that monitor your
purchases at the grocery store. It is nothing for them track your
consumption preferences when you use those little discount cards that you
get from the supermarket. We are currently seeing only the tip of
the iceberg on this problem. You could do a project that explores
this problem and generates some legislative or policy recommendations or
produces some advice for individuals to follow if they are concerned about
protecting their privacy.
If things continue as they are currently going, there is
very quickly going to be a vast chasm between those who are able to participate
in the computer age and those who cannot. This difference will likely
be as profound as the difference between those who are literate and those
who are not; or between those who are in the "cycle of poverty" and those
who are economically secure and self-reliant. The existence of such
differences is destabalizing to a society and corossive to a community.
If allowed to continue, it can lead to the kind of disparity between the
"haves" and the "have nots" that historically has generated political and
social revolutions. Presuming that you would agree that a revolution
in this country is something that we want to avoid, you could do a project
that explores this problem and proposes a set of social policy recommendations
that could effectively deal with this problem. On the other hand,
you might want to defend the proposition that such a differential is NOT
a problem at all.
It is now possible for education to be conducted in an altogether
different manner. Distance education or on-line instruction is in
its infancy. But it is developing constantly. In the not too
distant future, it will be a genuine alternative for many people. Currently there would be a significant difference between computer mediated education and "real world" education. However, as time goes on and technology develops those differences might diminish. Your project could be an exploration of the opportunities and drawbacks to such a development.
- Predicting the future of technology is always difficult, and predicting the development of personal computing has proven even more challenging. You might begin by comparing past predictions about computing to what has actually occurred. Document the growth of personal computing and the use of the Internet, and explain why it has mushroomed so quickly. Then venture some speculations about how the next five to ten years of personal computing might evolve, and explain why you think current trends will continue, or why and how they will change.
- There is a lot of speculation how Internet communications might change our political and electoral landscape. We are currently in a presidential election year. What part will online communications play in this current campaign? How are candidates and political action groups using online communications to further their political agendas? How may citizens use the Net to help them make political judgments? Then look further down the road. What long-term effects will the Net have on the structure of our political interaction? Will we someday need another Constitutional convention to alter our fundamental political structures and processes? Will the Net lead us in the direction of decentralization and anarchy, as some believe? Or will it lead to even more effective political control over our lives and thought, as others fear?
- Until the late Twentieth Century, most of the world's cultures lived in relative isolation from each other. Different peoples have different religions, political and economic systems, and cultural traditions, many of which often appear incompatible with each other. Mass communications media like television began the process of bringing the world together, and the growth of international trade has accelerated these changes. But many conflicts have arisen as a result of this convergence. Extreme religious and political groups, both of the Right and Left, are willing to resort to violence to protect their values and cultures from outside influence or domination. Local indigenous cultures are driven to the brink of extinction, threatening the loss of potentially enriching traditions and valuable information. Will the Internet be the final leveler, leading to a uniform worldwide culture? Or may it provide islands of protection for the preservation of cultural values? Or maybe both?
- Due to the digitizing of information, all the media which we have traditionally regarded as separate - mail, newspapers, magazines, telephone, radio and television - are being linked and recombined in various ways. Media observers called this phenomenon Convergence. Fiber optic cable makes possible the transmission of vast quantities of audio and video information to the home, and satellite and cellular technologies free us from wires and allow us to access information almost anywhere. Huge corporations - phone companies, cable companies, and broadcast networks - are fighting over control of these new information channels. What do you think the Information Superhighway will look like five to ten years from now? What methods of transmission will prevail and which will fall by the wayside? Will we all be watching TV on our computers? Will the Post Office go out of business? Where will we get our daily news? Which companies do you think have a competitive advantage in the digital information and entertainment marketplace?
The above list of topics is only suggestive. You should feel free to develop topics of your own. Some of
you will surely want to explore a topics that we have chosen to deal with
in class. This will be OK, but we expect those projects to go significantly
deeper than what we do in class.
We want to have groups assigned no later than Fri. Jan. 7th. We will schedule time in class on Thursday so that you can try to form your groups. Each group should consist
of three members. Obviously, group members should share an interest in
a specific topic and the group should be formed on that basis.
Your presentations should be similar to SURF presentations. (For those who don't know what
those are like, they are typically 12 to 15 minute oral/multi-media presentations
follow by 5 minutes of questions from the audience.)
As we agreed in class, we expect each group to hand in a detailed outline of the content of their presentation just prior to presenting their work to the class. In addition, you should hand in a bibliography that documents the research material that went into your presentation.