Possible topics for presentations

Your topic does not have to come from this list. These are suggestions.

Computerized medical record systems.
President Bush in his State of the Union address (2004) has proposed computerizing health records to reduce costs, improve care, and lower the risk of medical mistakes. Discuss advantages and disadvantages of such systems. Do you feel that such systems will have sufficient guarantees of patient privacy?

Privacy on the Web.
What's happening now? Recent abuses and improvements. Describe Web site policies, arguments for and against government regulation, etc.

Use of biometrics for identification.
Discuss recent use of iris scan for identification in airports, or fingerprint use at US border control, or use of face scan to identify convicted sex offenders or to search for criminals and terrorists, or fingerprint identification for cell phones. Discuss benefits, problems, issues.

Use of surevillance cameras
Cameras are used in stores, businesses, apartment complexes, etc. Wireless cameras are used by private citizens in their homes to monitor babysitters, elderly or mentally disabled persons, etc. Discuss use of cameras in these situations. What are the ethical issues involved?

Personal data privacy regulations in other countries.
England has an elaborate system.

Government electronic surevillance of communications.
Echelon and Carnivore. How has new communications technology made these possible? Has the technology made them necessary? Are they just maintaining the "status quo" of government wiretapping of criminals, or do they increase threats to everyone's civil liberties? What is the appropriate level of surveillance?

Copyright on the Net.
Issues related to MP3s, Napster, Gnutella, etc. What's being done to protect intellectual property (music, movies, etc.) and encourage sales on the Net? (The companies mp3.com and MusicMatch are located in San Diego; they are possible sources for interviews.)

Copyright and software.
What's happening with "free" software? What is the impact of Linux and Apache, for example? What are the implications for consumers? For big companies like Microsoft?

Children on the Internet.
There are several problem areas: availability of material not appropriate for children, contact with people who seek to abuse children, and privacy risks from game sites that ask children for extensive personal and family information (for marketing purposes). How serious are these problems? What is being done about them? Evaluate various solutions. Do benefits for children on the Net outweigh risks? Can we arrange to have the benefits without the risks?

From remote consultation to remote surgery. Benefits, possible problem areas (privacy, errors, loss of personalized care).

Computers in law enforcement.
Issues include benefits to crime fighting, invasion of privacy, problems caused for innocent people because of errors in databases. Describe cases where the computer system has been very helpful in catching a criminal, and describe cases where it has caused serious problems. An activity for this project could include a ride-along in a police car. (A few students did this in the past and found it very instructive.) Another possible activity is to interview someone who runs or supervises the use of local law enforcement computer systems. What databases do they access? How do they prevent unauthorized access? Are they aware of the serious injustices caused by errors in NCIC files? How do they try to avoid such problems?

Electronic commerce.
Implications for the economy, for privacy, etc. Which industries will benefit? Which will be hurt? How will daily activities be affected? Are there significant social benefits or detriments from electronic commerce?

Electronic commerce.
There are many more specific topics. For example, Smart Cards: uses, benefits, privacy implications and protections in a particular application or industry. Another example: Several companies are working on technology for micropayments on the Net. What will the impact be (on the structure of businesses, physical store locations, communities, etc.) if we can easily make little purchases on the Net? What are the privacy and security issues?

Electronic cash
There are some proposals for "Internet cash" (anonymous money as opposed to credit card payments). There are different levels of anonymity (for instance, an online account may not reveal the name of the buyer to a seller, but it can be traced by the company that provides the account). Discuss the issues involved.

Automated systems.
Study progress and safety and social issues related to an automated system like automated highways and self-driving vehicles.

Safety-critical applications.
Nancy Leveson's book _Safeware_ is a good source. Find an application in San Diego to study. Or study the Air Traffic Control system, which uses antiquated computers that break down often. Another idea: Mars orbiter that missed the destination because of a software problem. What constitutes an acceptable risk? Discuss the risks versus costs issue.

Use of computers in restaurants.
Investigation and discussion of the issues such as customer service, impact on employment, food safety, ambiance.

What are the problems? Relevance of freedom of speech. The roles of technical and legislative solutions. Anti-spam software. What is currently happening? What court cases have been decided so far?

Censorship of the Internet.
Some aspect not covered in the text, or study some issue in more detail. Some possibilities: filtering Internet terminals in libraries, control of the Net in other countries. (For historical background on libraries: Louise S. Robbins, Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association's Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969, Greenwood Press, 1996.)

Information warfare.
Will the next wars be fought without bombs? Will computer networks and computer-controlled infrastructure be the targets of military hackers? What is happening now? What kind of defenses are possible?

Computer crime, perhaps focusing on credit card fraud and identity theft.

Security vs. privacy and civil liberties.
Monitoring of major computer networks by the government to fight terrorism and to protect the security of the nation's information infrastructure. Is this a good idea? What are the pro and con arguments? (This could be part of a wider topic on privacy or hacking.)

Computers and conservation.
How are computers used by nature researchers and organizations. What do environmentalists think of computers? Are there ideological conflicts?

Political activism on the Net.
How has the Internet helped or hurt political groups outside the mainstream? How is it used by major political parties and candidates? What is the impact? How do/should current regulations about political campaigns affect individuals and small organizations that set up Web pages to support/oppose candidates and issues?

Violence in video/computer games.
What is the impact on children? There haven't been many serious studies yet. You could use studies on the impact of violence on television for background. Interview people who write and publish computer games to find out their policies and views about violent games.

Use of computers in schools.
How are they used? Are they really helping to teach or to babysit?

Distance learning.
What are the likely uses? What will be the impact on universities? on adult education? Is cheating a problem?

Policies of employers concerning monitoring of employees' use of the Web and/or reading employee e-mail.
Perhaps study a few local large businesses. A useful part of a project on e-mail privacy could be writing sample policies for different kinds of employers (e.g., for your university, covering students, faculty, and staff, and for a software company in a highly competitive business).

Cyberspace communities.
Describe some Cyberspace communities. What makes a "community"? How do cyberspace communities handle decision making, dealing with troublesome members, etc.?

Gender and minority issues.
The _Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering_ might have some useful articles for background and ideas for specific projects. There have been several studies of differences in the way men and women use computers. There are many Web sites aimed at specific minority groups, e.g., www.BlackVoices.com, www.netnoir.com, www.yavas.com. (The publisher of yavas.com is in San Diego; he might be a good subject for an interview.) You could study the differences and similarities between such sites and the Web in general. Other ideas: Another possibility is a study of students in nontechnical majors to find out how men and women, or different ethnic or national groups, differ in their use of and attitudes about computers. Why there are so few women interested in computer-related jobs? Will computer learning programs specifically designed for school age girls help? Is this a good idea?

Computing and network access in other countries.
CACM has articles about the state of computing in several other countries, e.g., India, South Africa, Haiti.

What will the world be like 50 years from now? How will electronic communications and commerce affect the power of centralized governments? Everyday life? What will happen as computers are connected to the human body? Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997. Will human intelligence be of less value in the future? Several experts have written books addressing these issues. You could read two or three and evaluate their predictions.

Voting on the Internet.
A few states plans to have some people vote in the presidential primary elections on the Internet. Will most political elections be held on the Internet in the future? Discuss the problems of maintaining secrecy of each person's vote while preventing election fraud. What other issues are relevant? How are the states planning to handle these issues? This is real relevant with the last presidential election.

Using technology in terrorism.
At what point is it ok to sell our technology to other countries? Can we do things to prevent them from getting into the "wrong" hands? Who can make these decisions? Can we keep track of these old technologies? Are our old technologies being used against us? How has the internet made it easier to get information on information on activists and bomb making, etc that can be used as forms of terrorism? Use of e-mail and electronic money transfer in terrorism.

New genetics - information about ones genetics?
Who should get this information? How should it be used? Who controls this information? How can personal genetic information affect an individual or society's perception of an individual? Who owns genes and other pieces of DNA? Will patenting DNA sequences limit their accessibility and development into useful products?

Genetics and reproductive issues.
How safe is fetal genetic testing? How can or should it be used? How reliable are the results of these tests? Is it right to genetically alter people based on these tests? Is it right to select the sex of a child?

Genetically altered things.
What are some genetically altered products? Are GM food and other products safe for humans and the environment? How will they alter developing countries dependence on the West? What are proper testing procedures for genetically modified foods?

Genetics and crime.
How is genetics affecting the courtroom, and police work? When should this be used and when not? How effective is DNA testing? What kind of tests can be done?

Is it right to clone? What benefits does it give? What does this do to the cloned individual? Is this individual treated different than others in its species? If a person is cloned... is it different than the person it is being cloned from?

Stem cell research.
Should everyone be allowed to research it? How does it work? What are the benefits it brings? What dangers does it bring? Do the pros outnumber the cons? At what time does life begin? Would this lead to a black market product?

When engineering something what is your obligation to society? How does one balance cost and benefits when building? How concerned does one need to be with safety? Whistle-blowing... when is it necessary? Stem cell research. Create person? Create and use gene therapy?

Robots in the work place.
When is it ok to replace workers with technology. What benefits does this have? What downfalls does this have? Can we ever have too much technology? What does this do to workers?

Sustainable development of resources.
How long will our resources last? What are we doing to save our world's resources? What can we do to repair damage to the environment that we have done? Or can we not...

Prescription drug market.
Are all new drugs safe? How much testing is needed? Is enough being done before they go out on the market? Are studies done biased? Who is responsible when a drug has bad results? Is the government doing enough to protect us? Is it right to advertise for prescription drugs? Does the USDA do the job to the best of their abilities or do things slide? Does testing unreasonably increase the cost of the drugs? Should people in US have access to cheaper foreign versions of the medicines?

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.