Computer Ethics Regarding The NSA

I stumbled upon two articles today when searching for a controversy relating to the field of computer science. Both of these articles were written in 2006, and both of them disagree with one another on the ethics regarding the NSA’s collection of domestic information. While the article against NSA’s methods of surveillance is more related to computer ethics, I should mention that the former director of the NSA, Michael V. Hayden, gives a defense of the NSA’s function in our domestic society pertaining more to political science rather than computer ethics in computer science. Professor Anita Ramasastry is the author of the article titled “The Recent Revelation About the NSA’s Access to Our Phone Records: The Laws that Were Probably Broken, and the Likely Consequences”, which argues against the NSA’s behavior that was disclosed in 2006. In her article, Professor Ramasastry focuses primarily upon the secret compilation of civilian phone records into the NSA’s database. While acknowledging that it is supported by some because of the potential terror- related hazards it might prevent, she still argues that it may conflict with a previous piece of legislation known as the Stored Communications Act. Professor Ramasastry then continues on to describe the possible consequences for the NSA if these have been broken, which essentially allow civilians affected by this to sue according to Ramasastry.

On the other hand, Michael Hayden defends the actions of the NSA in his speech titled “What American Intelligence & Especially The Nsa Have Been Doing To Defend The Nation“. The basic context here is that the information revealing the NSA’s operations has just been leaked, and Mr. Hayden is explaining what the NSA really is and why they’re doing what they’re doing. His most consistent argument he points to is the NSA’s necessity due to events such as the 9/11 attacks. He seems to place an emphasis on pathos- which is common when addressing a public crowd. Mr. Hayden also attempts to appeal to ethos by mentioning executive order 12333, which was implemented in the year 1981 in order to maintain oversight on the NSA according to

Essentially, what you have on Professor Ramasastry’s side is individuals concerned that the NSA may be doing more than they’re allowed to, coupled with a  sense of anxiety toward the ambiguity displayed outwardly from the NSA in this scenario. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the NSA is a necessary force that must be kept secret in order to keep the country safe from domestic attacks as well as maintaining competitive military power with the rest of the world. Some may believe this is veering towards the realm of political science, but I think in this case it’s more of a crossover between the field of Law as well as Computer Science. Since computer technology is involved in carrying out NSA activity, computer ethics come into play here- which, according to google, is defined as “Practical philosophy which deals with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct”.


Analysis On A Scholarly Persuasive Computer Science Article

In 1999, Professor Gadalla published a scholarly article arguing that there has been a problem over the last two decades in particular regarding Computer Science’s appeal to women. While one might expect a heavy emphasis on pathos in most fields, however, this article contradicts that common motif in the scholarly branch of literature. This Is actually to be expected when writing about computer science by virtue of the fact that it is a very technical field that even writes its papers with completely different conventions. These papers are very logical, methodical, and rely on facts over fluff generally speaking. With Professor Gadalla’s essay, I noticed that she began by describing the emphasis on bringing women into this field during the early 1980s. Next, she points out that the percentage of university enrolled women focused on computer science goes from a 55% increase during the early 1970s to a similar, stagnant rate 23 years later. Arming her essay with further facts supporting the idea that women are becoming more and more rare in the field today, she then proceeds to raise the suggestion that women may not be treated equally to men going into the field of computer science. Next, she describes the most generally accepted theory for this phenomenon is the  “Mathematics avoidance” hypothesis. This idea states that women often avoid Computer Science because they know that the field involves more mathematics. Further strengthening her original point, Gadalla deconstructs this notion by citing a study done in the years 1994 and 1995 stating that women accounted for 40% of mathematics enrollment in college. The author rests her case here by stating that regardless of whatever the actual cause of this issue may be, it is with one hundred percent certainty not an issue of women wanting to avoid mathematics. Later on, Professor Gadalla points to the media as being a culprit regarding this unfortunate circumstance. She also describes gender roles as being part of the problem as well. In the end, her thesis primarily advocates for encouragement towards women entering these professions typically considered to be dominated by men. Gadalla also stresses that there are multiple catalysts to this issue, citing the problem of gender roles once more as well as the unequal pay and glass ceiling problem often observed when comparing the promotional opportunities of a man as compared to a woman of the corporate standing. What I have seen from this writer is very consistent with what I have seen in the previous scholarly article I analyzed in my blog prior to this. Both of them are very technical and methodical with what they say, relying almost exclusively on logos to support their arguments. While tailored toward those more familiar and further along in the field of computer science, Gadalla is very straightforward with what she is trying to say.  There is a very clear set of steps she utilizes in order to ultimately reach her conclusion, which stresses an imperative urgency toward bringing women back into the field.


Here is the source if anyone is interested:

An Evening At Spartasoft

Focusing further on my Disciplinary Literacies project, I had found a computer science related club named Spartasoft – a student organization that focuses on video game design. I didn’t directly interact very much with the members, but I was very glad I went to the meeting. Basically, the session looked a lot like a laid back and interactive lecture where you could ask questions and just learn more about what goes into creating video-games. Last week, the subject was optimizing your game, or making a game run more smoothly so that your screen wouldn’t completely freeze up ever time you tried to move. The president would crack jokes every once in awhile regarding the programmers blaming the artists for a game running slow and vice versa, as well as illustrating what to do and what to avoid via the use of Batman and Robin image macros. For those that don’t know, an image macro is a background image with a layer of text over it often intended to be humorous. In this case, the example would be Batman slapping Robin for making poor coding/art decisions and causing the game to run slowly. Given the scenario, it was pretty clear to me that they’re here to develop a useful and entertaining job skill while enjoying themselves at the same time. The president told me that once or twice a semester they’d split into teams and design a video-game with the Unity Engine over the course of 48 hours, then proceed to actually sell that game afterward. By the end of the meeting, I had learned about the dangers of making game objects too detailed for an audience with mediocre or low performance computers as well as the consequences of not destroying objects the game isn’t using. I honestly cannot remember the last time I have been so engaged and fascinated by the material I was learning. This probably has been my favorite part of the project purely by virtue of the fact that it has given me a greater passion for video-game design. I also know for sure now that I will be pursuing computer science next semester, with an emphasis on creating video games if possible.

While being instilled with a newfound sense of passion for a subject is always a great experience, I also learned a lot of language pertaining to that subfield in particular. A couple terms that immediately come to mind are the words “Polygons”, “Assets”, and “Collision Issues”. From what I understood listening in to the lecture, an Asset basically is some form of an object or particle effect being used by the game engine. A bed sitting in a room would be one example of an asset. Polygons are basically the subatomic particles that make up an asset’s graphics. The previous asset I mentioned, a bed, would need polygons to have an appearance. The more polygons used for that bed, the more realistic that bed looks. However, more polygons will slow down a program; therefore it is imperative to know your limits and design assets accordingly. Finally Collision Issues are a major culprit when it comes to games running slow. One example of this would be an asset such as a train programmed to move right on course to hitting a wall. If this train wasn’t intended to hit the wall and stop moving, it would keep trying to move in place, while nothing would happen to the stationary wall. Presumably this would tax the machine trying to run the game, often resulting in reduced performance or perhaps even a potential crash of the game.

Overall I was very glad that I intended, and I definitely plan on attending their next meeting. There’s still a lot to learn about what goes into the design process, and it may be awhile before I have the opportunity to take an actual course involving game design.

Comparing Ecclesiastes To Crimes And Misdemeanors

Talking Points 5

       This is probably my first post not directly relating to my English class, but I thought I’d share a writing assignment given to me in my Religious Studies class today that asked me to analyze the relationship between the film “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, as well as the book of “Ecclesiastes” in the “Bible” while also addressing their relationship to the topic of “theodicy”, or the reason for human suffering. That being said, here is my rant:

      In the film “Crimes And Misdemeanors”, there is a particular scene that addresses the issue of theodicy arguably with a more narrow focus than the rest of the film. This scene captures a flashback Judah has of one of his Passover Seders, in which he is later in the scene able to interact with his family dining with the child form of himself. A basic synopsis of the scene involves his uncle Sol and aunt May arguing over the presence of faith and justice in our world. Sol argues that faith is present and the righteous are rewarded while the wicked are punished. May, however, believes that bad things occur indiscriminately and that suffering occurs regardless of one’s lifestyle. In the book of Ecclesiastes, primarily verses 7:15-18 and the vast majority of chapter 8, the issue of suffering is addressed by King Solomon in a way that seems to favor May’s argument. Despite Solomon’s  explanation of bad things happening regardless of one’s deeds, he does not seem to completely agree with May one hundred percent. On the contrary, he also describes a “fear of God” as being essential to one’s well-being (Ecc. 8:12). While the  film seems to portray May as a little more of a pessimist, Saul seems to be an optimistic man convicted of the belief that he lives in a world of darkness while still managing to see beauty in that same darkness. He does not claim we are completely evil or good , for example(Ecc. 7:15-18). Neither does he believe that there is nothing positive about life (Ecc. 9:7). While many might regard Solomon as a cynic, I have a very hard time regarding him as a pure nihilist- and I’d like to think that Solomon himself would probably state that his audience missed the whole point of his book in response to such a claim. The bigger picture of this book is that great and horrible things are destined to occur regardless of human influence. No man or woman is perfect or purely evil, Solomon explains. Instead, he paints us all as three dimensional beings with more complexities to us than simply an inherently positive or negative nature.

My First Collegiate Interview

Yesterday I was finally able to interview Professor McKinley, a Computer Science professor at my university whom I’d set an appointment up with earlier. While I didn’t quit gain an extensive grasp of knowledge regarding the language utilized in the field, I still found the interview to be very informative and overall successful. Before walking in to speak with Professor McKinley, for example, I’d assumed software and hardware to be the two primary divisions of Computer Science. However, this professor clarified to me that  the hardware aspect is actually a completely separate sub-field of Engineering that often falls into Electrical Engineering. Maintaining the topic of misconceptions in Computer Science, we discussed things that the general public tends to misunderstand about this field. The professor explained to me that the greatest inaccuracy among public perception is the idea that Computer Science is exclusively coding. As someone who has taken a programming course in high school and intends to pursue this degree for the purely coding aspect, this caught me completely off balance. He went on to further elaborate for me, explaining that computer science also places an emphasis on designing, maintaining, and tweaking these machines so that they may continue to operate as intended or even improve the way they operate.

Narrowing down the subject of the interview, we discussed his current focus in his field: Artificial Intelligence, or AI. He described AI development to me as making improvements and tweaking the code in order to improve a system and allow it to continue operating in the event of an emergency. One example he gave me was a project of his that involved designing a boat to change course in the event of one of its parts being rendered inoperable. Rather than a boat continuing to spin in a circle in the event of one of its rotors being destroyed, he explains, the machine instead adapts to the situation and adjusts itself so that it is still able to continue on its path. He told me that 10 years ago, he had no idea how to do this.

One more interesting subject we discussed was technical papers. Although we only briefly discussed this, he referred to these papers as often being “more formal”. I have also spoken with my roommate about these technical papers in casual conversation, and he explained to me that you aren’t allowed to use contractions. While this struck me as odd, it also has encouraged me to learn a little more about these technical papers.  

Interview Questions

Here are some questions I was told to post today for our assigned interview.

Is there a particular language or rhetoric consistent with the field of Computer Science?

What influential people in this field have had an impact on your academic interests?

What are some hotly discussed topics in the Computer Science field right now?

What caused you to take interest in your particular concentration of Computer Science in contrast to others?

What would you consider to be the most common misconception regarding Computer Science?