Session 17

Ethics at the Fringe


Software Systems

Exercise 25: Eliza and the Three Bears


  1. To consider more the kinds of problems to which computing can be applied.
  2. To explore ethical issues that can arise when applying computing.
  3. To understand better what artificial intelligence is.


Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper right hand corner of this page.

When we construct an "intelligent" system, of the sort we discussed last time, we typically try to solve problems at the fringe of our technical knowledge. As a result, thorny ethical questions can arise. Striking a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a technology is a task that faces computing professionals nearly every day.

  1. As an individual, choose one of the following "themes" and write a one paragraph scenario that involves an intelligent system

    Do not tell your teammates which theme you have chosen. Make your scenarios as simple and as realistic as possible--don't be absurd.

  2. As a group, tell each other your scenarios. See if your teammates can guess what your theme was. What is it about each scenario that makes it "obviously ethical", "obviously unethical", or neither?

  3. As a group, select three of your scenarios so that you have one example of each of the themes listed above. The scenario you select should be the "best" example of that theme developed by your group. If no one in the group wrote a scenario for one of the themes, then write one now as a group.


  1. You will present your group's scenarios to the class.
  2. We may have a bit more fun with the scenarios.
  3. You will submit your group's written answers.

Summary of Exercise 25

What is the significance of the title?

What is the value in this sort of exercise?

Is obviousness always obvious? What does that mean for how we practice our profession?

Exercise 26: Exploring Direct Manipulation


  1. To understand better direct manipulation interfaces.
  2. To understand better test writing and test taking.


Work in ths same teams...

  1. Describe in detail an application of direct manipulation to some domain not described in Chapter 6. You may choose to describe a direct manipulation interface for an existing, non-DM software system, or you may choose to propose a direct manipulation interface for a domain in which no software system already exists.

  2. Write an exam question on material in Chapter 6 of Shneiderman. Your question should be the kind of question that you like to see on an exam (a question that allows you to demonstrate your knowledge) and the kind that I like to see (a question that requires you to demonstrate your understanding).

  3. As a side effect of your question writing, identify the most important idea in Chapter 6. If you had to boil the whole chapter into one sentence (or three), what would you write?

Use this exercise as an opportunity to discuss any ideas from Chapter 6 that are not quite clear in your mind after the first reading. And ask questions when you have the opportunity!


  1. Your group submits its answers in writing to me.
  2. We discuss your answers in class and try to understand DM better. We also try to determine what makes for a reasonable exam question.

Eugene Wallingford ==== ==== March 6, 2001