Info 290S

Special Topics in Social Science and Policy

2–4 units

Course Description

Specific topics, hours, and credit may vary from section to section and year to year.

Course may be repeated for credit when topic changes. Students may enroll in multiple sections of this course within the same semester.

Requirements Satisfied

MIMS: Social Science and Policy Requirement

Courses Offered

Data and the algorithmic systems are ubiquitous in everyday life. These data encode our daily choices, actions, and behaviors, as well as our more persistent social identities. They also enrich the lives of some while limiting the life chances of others. In this way, data generated and collected about us form a type of information infrastructure: pervasive, hidden, and at times insidious. As technology and data-driven systems increasingly enter into our public, professional, and personal spheres, more of these worlds become encoded in data and result in shifts in the power relations within those worlds. In a word, data is a medium which reconfigures power.

In this seminar, we will engage readings around data, power, and infrastructure, drawing from a number of interdisciplinary academic, artistic, and activist traditions. We’ll discuss topics related to state projects of legibility and quantification; the genealogy of the modern data subject; the politics of classification systems; the surveillance of Blackness and the carceral logics of technology; administrative violence and trans and gender non-conforming identities; the invisible labor powering data-driven systems; and the resistances, obfuscations, and refusals to datafication and surveillance.

This course explores current debates about government regulation of online businesses. We start by examining the unintended consequences of digital advertising models that support many large online companies. We then review debates over antitrust, mis- and disinformation, privacy, content controls (e.g., pornography), and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The primary focus of the class is on US policy, but we will examine the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the most significant data protection legislation to date. We also look briefly at the way that these issues are being addressed elsewhere in the world and discuss the challenge of national regulation of global businesses.

This seminar is designed to allow students to explore the politics of information in greater depth than is possible in an introductory survey course. Each week, we will read and discuss a carefully selected, recent book on an issue in the field. Books offer greater analytical depth and complexity of insight into the issues. The topics include the origins of the internet, Section 230, social media and political polarization, the rise of surveillance advertising, what is privacy, privacy in practice, privacy by design, internet security, digital monopolies, and state control of information. A final week asks if/how society can rise to the challenges.

Will artificial intelligence technologies revolutionize warfare? Do cyberattacks represent an act of war? How do governments drive technological innovation in support of national security? What is the responsibility of the private sector when engaging in R&D with dual-use applications? To answer these questions, this course examines the intersection between politics, security, and technology both in the United States and across the globe.

The course is divided into four parts:

  1. Linking Politics, Security, and Technology in Theory
  2. Technology and War: A History
  3. Contemporary Debates: Today’s “Emerging” Technologies
  4. Tomorrow’s Technologies

Given the necessary breadth, our seminar will consider work from international relations, economics, science and technology studies, law, as well as non-academic writing in popular outlets. Topics include: offset strategies, offense-defense balance theory, grey-zone competition, conceptualizing strategic stability, escalation, the economics of industrial policy, and innovation policy. Technologies considered include: robotics, autonomous platforms (UAVs, UUVs), sensors for remote detection, machine learning, hypersonic missiles, missile defense technologies, and nuclear modernization.

Last updated:

October 27, 2022