Eliza and the Three Bears
Environment, Technology, and Society
Exercise: Eliza and the Three Bears
- To consider more the kinds of problems to which technology can be applied.
- To explore ethical issues that can arise when we apply technology.
Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper
right hand corner of this page.
When we develop a new technology, we typically try to use it 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 humans nearly
- As an individual, choose one of the following "themes" and write a
realistic scenario that involves a (new?) technology with one of these
- applied in an obviously ethical way
- applied in an obviously unethical way
- applied in a manner which raises serious, unanswered ethical
questions, the sort of questions that cause different people to
place it in any one of these three groups
Do not tell your teammates which theme you have chosen. Write
your scenario in one paragraph or so. Make your scenarios as simple and
as realistic as possible--don't be absurd.
- 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?
- As a group, select three of your scenarios so that you have one example of
each of the themes listed above. If you have a choice between two
scenarios with the same theme, select the one that you think is most
likely to stump your classmates. If no one in the group wrote a scenario
for one of the themes, then write one now as a group.
- As a group, predict my running time at the Chicago Marathon last Sunday.
The group with the closest guess that doesn't go over will receive a
a few points bonus for today. :-) [Don't spend much time on this!!]
- You will present your group's scenarios to the class.
- We may have a bit more fun with the scenarios.
- You will submit your group's written answers.
Summary of Exercise
What is the significance of the title?
- Eliza: an early computer program that raised serious ethical issues
for its own programmer--and changed his and many other peoples' minds
about the ethical implications of computer software
- The Three Bears: one is too hot, one is too cold, and one is just
right. (Flipped on its head here.)
What is the value in this sort of exercise?
- Many issues aren't points in the space of ideas; each lies on a
continuum, a point between two extremes. Understanding such issues
and their implications only occurs when you appreciate the continuum
and what makes points on it hard to place. Applying technologies
to human life often calls for some hard choices.
Is obviousness always obvious? What does that mean for how we practice
On Task 4, you can check me out at
I finished 11,471st out of 40,000... with a time of 4:03:51.
Eugene Wallingford ====
October 14, 2003