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Discussion Questions

Chapter 2
Why are computer manufacturers constantly releasing faster computers? How do
computer users benefit from the increased speed?

How is human memory similar to computer memory? How is it different?

Chapter 3
If we think of the human brain as a computer, what are the input devices? What
are the output devices? What are the storage devices?
What kind of new input and output devices do you think future computers might
have? Why?

Chapter 4
In what way is writing instructions for a computer for a computer more difficult
than writing instructions for a person? In what way is it easier?
How would using a computer be different if it had no operating system? How
would programming be different?
Speculate about the user interface of a typical computer in the year 2010. How
would this user interface differ from those in todays computers?
If you had the resources to design a computer with a brand new user interface,
what would your priorities be? Make a rank-ordered list of the qualities youd like to
have in your user interface.
How do you feel about the open software movement? Would you be willing to
volunteer your time to write software or help users for free?

Chapter 5
Which of the word processing features and software categories described in
chapter 5 would be most useful to you as a student? How do you think you would use

What do you think of the arguments that word processing reduce the quality of
writing because (1) it makes it easy to write hurriedly and carelessly and (2) it puts the
emphasis on the way a document looks rather than on what it says?
Many experts fear that desktop publishing technology will result in a glut of
unprofessional, tacky-looking publications. Others fear that it will result in a glut of
slick-looking documents full of shoddy ideas and dangerous lies. How do you feel about
each of these ideas?
Like Gutenbergs development of the movable type printing press more than 500
years ago, the development of desktop publishing puts powerful communication tools in
the hands of more people. What impact will desktop publishing technology have on the
free press and the free exchange of ideas guaranteed in the United States Constitution?
What impact will the same technology have on free expression in other countries?

Discuss question 4, substituting Web publishing for desktop publishing.

Chapter 6
Spreadsheets are sometimes credited with legitimizing the personal computer as a
business tool. Why do you think they had such an impact?
Why do you think errors in spreadsheet models go undetected? What can you do
to minimize the risk of spreadsheet errors?
The statement People dont make mistakes, people do is often used to support
the reliability of computer output. Is this statement true? Is it relevant?
Are computer simulations misused? Give some examples, and explain your
Before spreadsheets, people who wanted to use computers for financial modeling
had to write programs in complex computer languages to do the job. Today spreadsheets
have replaced those programs for many financial applications. Dou you think
spreadsheets will be replaced by some easier to use software tool in the future? If so, try
to imagine what it will be like.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of computer simulation as a tool for
research and education.

Chapter 7

How does modern digital image processing technology affect the reliability of
photographic evidence? How does digital audio technology affect the reliability of sound
recordings as evidence? How should our legal system respond to this technology?
Scanners, video digitizers, and audio digitizers make it easier than ever for people
to violate copyright laws. What, if anything, should be done to protect intellectual
property rights of the people who create pictures, videos, and music? Under what
circumstances do you think it is acceptable to copy sounds or images for use in your own
Do you think hypermedia documents will eclipse certain kinds of books and other
media? If so, which ones and why?
Thanks to modern electronic music technology, one or two people and make a
record that would have required dozens of musicians 20 years ago. What impact will
electronic music technology ultimately have on the music profession?
Try to answer each of the questions posed at the end of the section called
Interactive Media: Visions of the Future.
If television today can mesmerize so many people, will tomorrows
interactive multimedia TVs cause even more serious addiction problems? Or will
interactive communication breathe new life into the media and the people who use
Will interactive electronic media make it easier for abusers of power to
influence and control unwary citizens, or will the power of the push button create
a new kind of digital democracy?
Will interactive digital technology just turn sound bites into sound
bytes, or will it unleash the creative potential in the people who use it?

Chapter 8
Grade books, checkbooks and other information collections can be managed with
either a database program or a spreadsheet program. How would you decide which type
of application is most appropriate for a given job?
What have you done this week that directly or indirectly involved a database?
How would your week have been different in a world without databases?
The computer is a great humanizing factor because it makes the individual more
important. The more information we have on each individual, the more each individual
counts. Do you agree with this statement by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov? Why
or why not?

Suppose you have been incorrectly billed for $100 by a mail order house. You
protestations are ignored by the company, which is now threatening to report you to a
collection agency. What do you do?
What advantages and disadvantages does a computerized law enforcement system
have for law-abiding citizens?
In what ways were George Orwells predictions in the novel 1984 accurate? In
what ways were they wrong?

Chapter 9
Suppose you have an important message to send to a friend in another city, and
you can use the telephone, email, real-time teleconference, fax, or overnight mail service.
Discuss the advantages of each. See if you can think of a situation for each of the five
options in which that particular option is the most appropriate choice.
Some people choose to spend several hours every day online. Do you see
potential hazards in this kind of heavy modem use? Explain your answer.
In the quote at the end of the chapter, Steward Brand points out that electronic
communication is essential for some of the worlds people and irrelevant to others. What
distinguishes these two groups? What advantages and disadvantages does each have?

Chapter 10
How did the Internets Cold War origin influence its basic decentralized, packetswitching design? How does that design affect the way we use the Net today? What are
the political implications of that design today?
Why is the World Wide Web important as a publishing medium? In what ways is
the Web different from any publishing medium thats ever existed before?

Chapter 11
As scientist, engineer, and government officials develop plans for the future of the
Internet, they wrestle with questions about who should have access and what kinds of
services to plan for. Do you have any ideas about the kinds of things they might want to

Do you know anyone who has experienced Internet addiction? If so, can you
describe the experience?
How do you think online user interfaces will evolve as bandwidth and processing
power increase? Describe what cyberspace will feel like in the 2010, in the year 2050,
and beyond.

Chapter 12

Are computers morally neutral? Explain your answer.

Suppose Whizzo Software Company produces a program that looks, from the
users point of view, exactly like the immensely popular Bozo-Works from Bozo, Inc.
Whizzo insists that it didnt copy any of the code in Bozo-Works; it just tried to design a
program that would appeal to Bozo-Works users. Bozo cries foul and sues Whizzo for
violation of intellectual property laws. Do you think the laws should favor Bozos
arguments or Whizzos? Why?
What do you suppose motivates people to create computer viruses and other
destructive software? What do you think motivates hackers to break into computer
systems? Are the two types of behavior related?
Some people think all mail messages on the Internet should be encrypted. They
argue that, if everything is encrypted, the encrypted message wont stand out, so
everybodys right to privacy will be better protected. Others suggest that this would just
improve the cover of criminals with something to hide from the government. What do
you think, and why?
Would you like to work in a business where all employees were required to wear
active badges? Explain your answer.
How do the issues raised in the debate over SDI apply to other large software
systems? How do you feel about the different issues raised in the debate?

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Is the Turing test a valid test of intelligence? Why or why not?

If you were the interrogator in the Turing test, what questions would you ask to
try to discover whether you were communicating with a computer? What would you
look for in the answers?
List several mental tasks that people do better than computers. List several
mental tasks that computers do better than people. Can you find any general
characteristics that distinguish the items on the two lists?
Computers can compose original music, produce original artwork, and create
original mathematical proofs. Does this mean that Ada King was wrong when she said,
in effect, that computers can do only what theyre told to do?
The works of AARON, the expert system artist, are unique, original and widely
acclaimed as art. Who is the artist, AARON or Harold Cohen, AARONs creator? Is
AARON a work of art, an artist, or both?
If an expert system gives you erroneous information, should you be able to sue it
for malpractice? If it fails and causes major disruptions or injury, whos responsible?
The programmer? The publisher? The owner? The computer?
Some expert systems and neural nets cant explain the reasons behing their
decisions. What kinds of problems might this limitation cause? Under what
circumstances, if any, should an expert system be required to produce an audit trail to
explain how it reached conclusions?
What kinds of human jobs are most likely to be eliminated because of expert
systems? What kinds of new jobs will be created because of expert systems?
What kinds of human jobs are most likely to be eliminated because of robots?
What kinds of new jobs will be created as a result of factory automation?
10.) Are Asimovs three laws of robotics adequate for smoothly integrating intelligent
robots into tomorrows society? If not, what laws would you add?

Chapter 15

What evidence do we have that our society is going through a paradigm shift?

What will have to happen before the paperless office (or the less-paper office)
becomes are reality?
Many cities are enacting legislation to encourage telecommuting. If you were
drafting such legislation, what would you include?

People who work in electronic sweatshops run the risk of being replaced by
technology. Discuss the trade-offs of this dilemma from the point of view of the worker
and society at large.
*5.) What do you think are the answers to the questions raised at the end of the section
on automation and unemployment? How do you think most people would feel about
these questions?
Do governments have an obligation to provide public assistance to the
chronically unemployed?
Should large companies be required to give several months notice to
workers whose jobs are being eliminated? Should they be required to retrain
workers for other jobs?
Should large companies be required to file employment impact
statements before replacing people with machines in the same way theyre
required to file environmental impact statements before implementing policies
that harm the environment?
If robots and computers are producing most of societys goods and
services, should all of the profits from those goods go to a few people who own
the machines?
If a worker is replaced by a robot, should the worker receive a share of the
robots earnings through stocks or profit sharing?
The average workweek 150 years ago was 70 hours; for the last 50 years it
has been steady at about 40. Should governments and businesses encourage jobsharing and other systems that allow for less than 40-hour jobs?
What will people do with their time if machines do most of the work?
What new leisure activities should be made available.
How will people define their identities if work becomes less central to
their lives?

Chapter 16
Socrates was illiterate and avoided the written word because he felt it weakened
the mind. Similarly, many people today fear that were weakening our childrens minds
by making them too dependent on computers and calculators. What do you think?

In many schools students spend two years of math education learning long
division a skill thats almost never used in the age of the five-dollar calculator. Some
educators argue that students time could be better spent learning other things. What do
you think? What about calculating square roots by hand?
Do you think its important for students to learn to program in LOGO, Pascal,
Basic, or some other language? Why or why not?
Do you think educational games are good ways for students to learn in schools?
Give examples that support your arguments.

What kinds of productivity software tools should students learn to use? Why?

Think about educational goals in relation to technology. What should people be
able to do with no tools? What should people be able to do if they have access to pencils,
papers, and books? What should people be able to do if they have access to computer

Chapter 17
Some of the most interesting technological ideas are emerging from
interdisciplinary labs at MIT, Carnegie-Mellon University, Xerox, and elsewhere labs
where scientists, engineers, artists, and philosophers work together on projects that break
down the traditional barriers. Why do you think this is so?
Millions of computers worldwide are already connected to networks. But unlike
highways and railroads todays computer networks arent widely available, easy to use,
and obviously valuable to the general population. What will need to happen for the
information infrastructure to transform our lives the way highways and railroads
transformed our ancestors lives?
Arthur C. Clark and others have suggested that virtual reality will replace T.V. Do
you agree? If it does, will that be a good thing?
What kinds of questions might be raised if humans develop biologically based
computers? How might the computers change our society?
Discuss the questions raised in the section called Human Questions for a
Computer Age. Which of those questions are the most important? Which are hardest to

Will computers be democratic?

Will personal computers and the Internet empower ordinary citizens to



make better lives for themselves? Or will computer technology produce a

society of technocrats and techno-peasants? Will computerized polls help
elected officials better serve the needs of their constituents? Or will they
just give the powerful another tool for staying in power? Will networks
revitalize participatory democracy through electronic town meetings? Or,
will they give tyrants the tools to monitor and control citizens?
The real question lies here: do these instruments further life and its values
Will electronic interconnections provide new opportunities to further
peace, harmony and understanding? Or will the intense competition of the
global marketplace simply create new kinds of wars information wars?
Or will they simply make it easier for information-rich countries to exploit
developing nations from a distance? Will information technology be used
to promote and preserve diverse communities, cultures and ecosystems?
Or will it undercut traditions, cultures and roots?
Can human bodies and minds adapt to the higher stimulation, faster pace,
and constant change of the information age? Will our information-heavy
environment cause us to lose touch with the fundamental human needs?
Will we become so dependent on our pretty toys that we cant get by
without them? Will we lose our sense of purpose and identity as our
machines become more intelligent? Or will we learn to balance the
demands of the technology with our biological and spiritual needs?

Do you foresee a time when we will share the Earth with truly intelligent beings
of our own creation? Why or why not?
7.) Read and discuss Borg in the Mirror on page 451.