NATS 1700: Computers, Information, and Society

Final Grades News:

Final grades have been released. Your uncollected course work can be picked up from my office on:
  • Thursday, May 14th, 1pm to 2:30pm,
  • or by appointment.
I will keep all your work for one year.

NATS 1700: Fall/Winter 2014-2015

  • Lecture schedule: Tu, Th, 14:30--16:00, LAS C
  • Instructor's office hours: Tu, Th, 13:30-14:30, Lassonde Bld., 3052B
  • Class representatives:
    • Daniel Astakhov,
    • Maria Spano,
    • Eva Darboh,
  • TAs:
    • Michael Haworth (BH)
    • Vassil Halatchev (VH)
    • Robert-Frank Codd-Downey (RCD)

Course description

When we reflect upon the impact of technology on society, computer and information technologies represent canonical examples. Yet, no singular technological invention or event, no matter how groundbreaking, can account for the creation of the digital electronic computer. Similarly, no digital computer, no matter how powerful or versatile, can singularly explain the rapid transition of our civilization into that of consumers of digital information. The computer and information technologies are examples of high technologies in constant motion, advancing at a speed that makes projections of their future milestones and impact difficult without a systematic approach grounded in their history and in present technological social and scientific context. Indeed, no invention occurs without such a context created in part by a chain of earlier discoveries, inventions, or contributions, sometimes centuries in the making.

This course provides a comprehensive look at the historical development, present state, and possible future directions for the computer and information technologies. It examines the continuous interplay between these technologies' advancement and social, economic, and cultural changes and demands.

Computing and its impact on society is a vast subject that cannot be covered adequately in a single course and, therefore, some selection of subjects have to made. The course will focus on the central themes conjoining historical with contemporary, technological with social, individual with collective. Some of these themes are: the calculating machines and methods of the past, the birth of modern computing, the evolution of hardware and software, the quest for artificial intelligence and the limits of computing, digital social networks, virtual reality, digital entertainment, and many more.

Course Evaluation

  • Fall term test: 30%

  • Winter term test: 30%, date/time/location: Thu, 23 Apr 2015, 19:00, LAS C, LAS B

    note: there will be no makeup tests; if you miss the Fall term test for medical, compassionate, etc. reasons (valid in accordance with York Un. regulations and documented without delay), the weight of the missed test will be transfered to the Winter term test.

    Your SAMPLE Winter term test is here.

  • two research papers: 20% each

Research papers

Students are required to write two research papers and submit them for evaluation -- the first paper should be completed in the Fall term and the other in Winter.

The Fall research paper deals with a historical aspect of computing and society (any period before 1990). The subject of the paper can be the history of an artifact, a computer pioneer, a company, an organization, or a significant event in the history of computing. The purpose of the paper is to analyze the selected subject in the context of the mutual shaping of society and the computer and information technologies. For instance, a student may choose to write about the attention that the early home computer industry was paying to children. Or about the history of computing at York University and the way the early computing resources at York were shaping the university's academic life.

The Winter research paper deals with any contemporary aspect of computing in relation to selected social, cultural, economic, technological, or political issues, in the first decade of the 21-st century. For instance, a student may choose to write about a specific issue related to Open source movement, One Laptop Per Child movement, Semantic Web, iTunes, or computers in early childhood education.

Each research paper should be about 4,000 words in length. Although a student is free to select her or his own research subjects, it is required that such selections be approved by the instructor. To this end, for each paper the student is required to submit the paper proposal which must include: (1) the subject of the paper, (2) brief justification of the relevance of the selected subject to the study of computing in relation to the processes of social, cultural, and/or political change. The proposal should also specify (3) the sources that a student is planning to use (e.g. scientific journals, an interview with a pioneer of computing, trade literature of the period, York University Computer Museum, or York University Special Collections resources, etc), and (4) expected outcome of the proposed research.

Each research paper will be judged with respect to its content, technical accuracy, and writing quality, and will be evaluated as follows:

York University Computer Museum is Looking for Volunteers!

York University Computer Museum (YUCoM) is looking for student volunteers to help with various projects from archiving documents to arranging exhibits. If you would like to volunteer 1 hour a week of your time, 2 hours, or more, please contact the instructor. Thanks!