Technology and Delegation, Spring 2013

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Note: See Technology and Delegation, Spring 2015 for an updated version of this syllabus

This is the syllabus for the Spring 2013 Technology and Delegation Seminar, taught by Deirdre K. Mulligan (dkm@ischool). (See also the 2011, 2010 and 2009 versions.)

Class meeting: Monday 2-4pm; 205 South Hall

Office hours: Monday 4-5pm (subject to change)

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.

Information technology has been integrated into an array of complex interactions between individuals and the state. Often these technological changes are put forth as inevitable progress toward modernization and as value-neutral means for acting upon policies established through the political branch of government. However, the adoption or introduction of specific technology can obscure profound policy choices and options. Obscurity can arise due to barriers to transparency created by law, such as intellectual property rights asserted to prevent the analysis of software code used in electronic voting systems, due to a lack of necessary expertise to understand the ramifications of a technological shift within the public and private sector entities focused on the relevant policy issues, or, more fundamentally, due to shifts in technology that remove or shift the assumptions on which earlier policies were developed. As a result, the agency, the public, and the political branch of government may overlook the policy-implications in the choice of a new technology.

Through background readings from a range of disciplines and case studies this class will explore instances of discretion delegated to, or embedded in technology--unpacking the process, the substantive outcomes, and the responses from various communities--policy makers, academics, vendors--and disciplines. We will consider techniques for identifying policy issues in technical design, and delegations to technical experts through technology adoption. We will consider the risks and benefits of embedding value and policy choices through technical design versus the adoption of policies or procedures, and rigorously consider the hand-off among them. Topics will include the policy implications of standards, the process and implication of translating law into technological forms, governance implications of government adoption of technology, and government use of technology to regulate behavior and make decisions.

Class schedule

Syllabus undergoing changes/updates from last semester.

Date Topic Readings
January 28th Technology as policy Introduction to Course

February 4th Politics of technology and those who build and control it Read:

If you Feel like it Watch:

  • Given that it comes up in two of the articles consider watching the Dark Knight Rises
February  11th Guest Lecture Jennifer King

We'll be focusing on uncovering values in design by contrasting two approaches: the Privacy Impact Assessment vs. HCI-based methods.

February  18th No Class
February 25th Take 2 Read:
March 4th The problem of looking at law alone Read:
March 11th Governance
March 18th Governance, Transparency and Accountability: Technology in the Mix Read:
April 1st Lecture: To Save Everything Click Here, Evgeny Morozov, Reception: 3:30 pm Discussion: 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm Boalt Hall Room 105

Read the book (I have one copy I can lend) or at least a review, here are some to get you started (in no particular order)
April 8th Governance, Transparency and Accountability: Legal Barriers and Technology Rules Read any TWO of these FOUR:
April 15th Using Code to Govern: Translation and Limitations Read:
April 22nd Institutions, Processes, Expertise, and Value Commitments Lecture Leah H. Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering at Purdue University, “Engineering and Social Responsibility: A View from the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) Program.”
April 29th Roles, Expertise, and Tools Read:
May 6th Case Study: Neutrality Read:

Assignments and Grading