Technology and Delegation, Fall 2016

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Note: See Technology and Delegation, Fall 2017 for an updated version of this syllabus

This is the syllabus for the Fall 2016 Technology and Delegation Lab, taught by Deirdre K. Mulligan (dmulligan@berkeley) and Nick Doty (npdoty@ischool).

(See also the 2015, 2013, 2011, 2010 and 2009 versions.)

Class meeting
Tuesday and Thursday 2:00-3:30 PM; 205 South Hall
Office hours
Deirdre: Thursday 3:30-5:00, 303b South Hall
Nick: by appointment, South Hall or nearby coffee shops
mailing list
#techdel on Slack

Course description

Themistocles said his infant son ruled all Greece -- "Athens rules all Greece; I control Athens; my wife controls me; and my infant son controls her." Thus, nowadays the world is controlled by whoever buys advertising time on Dora the Explorer.
XKCD highlights technology and delegation.

Technology is often put forth as inevitable progress toward modernization and as a value-neutral means for implementing the policies of law, agency rules, or corporate planning. The introduction of technology increasingly delegates responsibility for some function — sensing, sensemaking, deciding, acting — to technical actors. These handoffs of function between people, processes and technologies are rarely as inconsequential as they are initially made out to be. Often these shifts reduce traditional forms of transparency—as black boxes embed rules and make decisions less visible—and challenge traditional methods for accountability.

Meanwhile, policymakers are asking those who design technology to build-in values such as privacy and fairness—handing off some responsibility for their expression and protection. It is rarely a simple case of a function being handed wholesale from people to technology, or one technology to another; but rather a complicated interleaving in which a value is shaped and constrained by multiple modes of regulation.

We will draw on a wide range of literature, including: design, science and technology studies, computer science, law, and ethics, as well as primary sources in policy, standards and source code. We will explore the interaction between technical design and values including: privacy, accessibility, fairness, and freedom of expression. We will investigate approaches to identifying the value implications of technical designs and use methods and tools for intentionally building in values at the outset. And we will be not only critical, but also constructive: this lab will give us a hands-on opportunity to try out technologies for ourselves and experiment with building alternatives that address rights and values.


First, we will look at the theory and examples of the effects of technological delegation on public policy values; next, we will review and test the practices, tools and methodologies to design for values we care about; and finally, we will consider some ongoing case studies to discover what affirmative agenda or common principles we can elicit for embedding values in design.

Typically, Tuesday meetings will be discussions based on the readings and Thursday meetings more lab exercises, but this will vary.

Week 0: Introduction

Thursday, August 24th

We will introduce the content and methods of the course, and introduce ourselves to one another.

Read, or skim over if you've read it before:

  • Winner, Langdon. "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 1, Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? (Winter, 1980), pp. 121-136 The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Week 1: Artifacts and Politics

Tuesday, August 30th; Thursday, September 1st



browsing the Web, a poor man’s overview of Internet and Web architecture

Week 2: What Things Regulate

Tuesday, September 6th; Thursday, September 8th



Let’s try out Tor! And some other self-help privacy browser tools. (To what threat models do they apply?)

Week 3: How Things Regulate

Tuesday, September 13th; Thursday, September 15th



Explore a current content delivery system. Look at TOS/EULA, controls, affordances, defaults, etc. Consider in light of the readings.

Week 4: Code and Standards

Tuesday, September 20th; Thursday, September 22nd



Let's pick an ongoing standard-setting conversation and try to understand it.

Week 5: Democracy, Transparency, Due Process

Tuesday, September 27th; Thursday, September 29th



We'll look at voting irregularities. See:
  • Citron, Danielle Keats, Technological Due Process. U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-26; Washington University Law Review, Vol. 85, pp. 1249-1313, 2007. READ § I.A., II.B.2, III.C.2. (Access through UC Berkeley proxy.)

Week 6: Values in Design

Tuesday, October 4th; Thursday, October 6th



Let’s use mitmproxy and do some forensic analysis.

Week 7: Privacy Assessments

Tuesday, October 11th; Thursday, October 13th

Sean Brooks (NIST) to join us.



As a small group, take one of these decisional tools and a spec or product and apply the review process.

Week 8: Design Thinking

Tuesday, October 18th; Thursday, October 20th

Richmond Wong to join us.


  • Sengers, Phoebe, Kirsten Boehner, Shay David, and Joseph “Jofish” Kaye. 2005. “Reflective Design.” In Proceedings of the 4th Decennial Conference on Critical Computing: Between Sense and Sensibility, 49–58. CC ’05. New York, NY, USA: ACM.
  • Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. 2001. Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. Springer Science & Business Media. Section 4.
  • Sims, Christo. "The Politics of Design, Design as Politics", forthcoming. (Pre-print available in Slack channel.)


Using “design noir” and design thinking to generate and explore project ideas.

Week 9: Collaboration & Governance

Tuesday, October 25th; Thursday, October 27th



Let’s get up to speed with git and GitHub. (Set up an account if you don’t have one already.) We will also use the time to talk about groups and group projects.

Week 10: Human Rights / Which Values?

Tuesday, November 1st; Thursday, November 3rd



Let’s experiment with screenreaders.

Week 11: Tools in Action

Tuesday, November 8th; Thursday, November 10th


  • No new Readings!
  • Please review Cooper; DHS; and NIST tools from week 7



Week 12: Design Responses to Harassment

Tuesday, November 15th; Thursday, November 17th



We'll review Blocktogether and the source code behind ggautoblocker and other blocklists.
  • Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, by Danielle Keats Citron, September 2014.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton. "The politics of ‘platforms’." New Media & Society 12.3 (2010): 347-364.

Week 13: Fairness

Tuesday, November 22nd; [no Thursday class, Thanksgiving]


  • Koponen, Jarno M. 2015. “We Need Algorithmic Angels.” Techcrunch.
  • Ananny, Mike. "Toward an Ethics of Algorithms Convening, Observation, Probability, and Timeliness." Science, Technology & Human Values 41.1 (2016): 93-117.
  • Neyland, Daniel. "Bearing account-able witness to the ethical algorithmic system." Science, Technology & Human Values 41.1 (2016): 50-76. All
  • Cecilia Munoz, Megan Smith, and DJ Patil. Big data: A report on algorithmic systems, opportunity, and civil rights. Technical report, Executive Office of the President, The White House, 2016.
  • See the results of the “Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning” event:

Week 14: Ethics & Profession

Tuesday, November 29th; Thursday, December 1st

Anna Lauren Hoffmann and Luke Stark to join us.



No class meeting, but attend the Algorithms & Culture conference going on at that time.

Week 15 (RRR): Project Presentations

Tuesday, December 6th

Course policies


This is a 3-unit class. Meetings each week will include seminar-style discussion, lab-style exercises, and collaborative design and technical work. Readings should be read carefully. Throughout the semester students will complete short writing assignments, lead class discussions, and critique artifacts during the semester. During the second half of the semester students will work collaboratively in teams of 2-4 on a larger design-oriented final project.


Your grade is based on class participation 15% and assignments 85%. This class is designed to hone your critical inquiry skills. You are expected to fully participate—present, actively listen, engage with your classmates and the materials, bring your own insights to the discussion, share your experience and knowledge. Please come prepared to argue, explain, revise, borrow, refine, and of course junk your ideas. Thinking out loud is encouraged. This is how one learns. The success of this class depends upon student’s diligent preparation and active participation—listening, speaking, designing, building—in class. Readings will be assigned throughout the semester. Everyone is expected to read and reflect on the readings.

Assignments account for the remainder of your grade. They will be graded primarily on substance, however a minimal portion of each grade will reflect organizational clarity, grammar, and presentation style as appropriate. The assignments are staggered throughout the semester.


1. Discussion Leads 10% At least once during the semester, you and a partner will be selected to lead the class discussion of the weekly readings. While each student is expected to engage in class discussions, which counts towards the class participation grade, the students assigned students will be expected to prepare a set of questions to frame the discussion, and to lead and moderate the conversation.

2. Critical Reflections 30% Critical reflections are an invitation to apply both the theoretical and practical learning from the course to new problems. They are designed to develop your skills as readers--critiquing, building upon, relating various pieces we read. Reflection pieces should synthesize readings and ideas from class discussion, and use the resulting insights to analyze an issue or object of interest to you, critique readings, or anything else you would like. The requirements of the writing are small in number, you must 1) seriously engage with the readings (could be 1 could be 2 could be more); and 2) write about something that interests you.

Do not, under any circumstances, provide a summary of the articles. You've read them. We've read them. We know you've read them. The form is in between short essay and journal entry. This is a playful style. We want to get a sense of what you are taking away from the class and what sorts of thoughts, ideas, questions it is raising for you. 2-4 normal pages typed.

Because we think this form of writing is most successful when it originates organically with you, the deadlines are looser:

  • the first is due sometime in weeks 1-3 (by Saturday, September 17th);
  • the second in weeks 4-6 (by Saturday, October 8th); and,
  • the third anytime before December 3rd.

3. Critiques 10% The second half of the semester we will begin each class with a student led critique of an information or physical artifact. The students assigned (teams of 2) will select an interface, object, algorithm, design, instructable, kickstarter, toy, etc. and offer a brief—3 slides 5 min—critique that introduces the item and reflects on its values implications drawing on class readings and assignments up to that point. The class will then collectively critique the artifact.

4. Final Project 35% During the second half of the semester students will work collaboratively in teams of 2-4 on a larger design-oriented final project.

Late assignments will be penalized: each day an assignment is late will result in a half a grade deduction. Recognizing that emergencies arise, exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Scheduling: Use this spreadsheet to choose which week you'll be a discussion lead and when you'll do a design critique.


Academic integrity for this course depends on clear citation of ideas, text and code. At this level, we harbor no romantic illusions that work is born whole from your mind alone; instead, we want you to engage with the assigned readings and ideas you connect from other classes or the world around you, and to make those connections clear. Programmers often copy-paste code or re-use libraries in order to build upon the shoulders of giants without reinventing the wheel. This is encouraged, but we expect students to be careful in their assignments to note what they wrote themselves and to attribute code snippets and libraries to their original authors.

Research Ethics

Class projects for the purpose of learning are typically exempt from Berkeley’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (our Institutional Review Board) review. However, if you are conducting a research project that might result in publishable work (and many of you may!), keep in mind that UCB policy and publication venues will typically require you to have gone through the IRB process even if it is to receive an exemption. In addition, being exempt from IRB review does not mean that you are somehow exempt from ethical norms or that you wouldn’t benefit from advice or review. Feel free to come to the instructors for advice on a project which involves intervention with, data collection, or use of data about, human subjects.