One of the most important developments enabled by the Internet has been the formation of on-line communities. Such communities predate the World Wide Web, but the Web has greatly facilitated their growth.
On-line communities fall into several categories. Some are based around cooperative projects such as open-source software development or the dissemination of information. Wikipedia and the Gutenberg Project are examples of the latter. Others are mainly for purposes of discussion of topics of mutual interest. Such groups include chat rooms and e-mail lists. Other groups exist for participants to engage in role-playing games, e.g. MUDs and MOOs, or to trade or buy goods, e.g. eBay, P2P networks, warez sites, etc. In some of these communities there is much interaction among the members and friendships can be formed, while in others interactions are much fewer and more likely to be formal or businesslike.
Write an essay based on your own personal experience with some kind of online or virtual community. In your essay explore what is useful, attractive, or enjoyable about the community. Indicate what kind of interaction there is among the members. Also deal with any less positive aspects of the community that there may be, such as exploitation, rudeness, deception, etc.
Finally, make a few projections of where this online community, and/or online communities in general, might go in the future. What might these developments bode for society?
If you have no personal experience with an online community, get some. The Wikipedia article on Virtual Communities is a good starting place. Needless to say, don't go into any dark alleys of the Internet for this project.
Due date: Tuesday, April 11.
In the assigned reading selections from "The Age of Spiritual Machines," Ray Kurzweil makes a number of specific predictions for developments by the year 2009, as well as predictions of much greater advancements for the more distant (but not very distant) future. Examine his predictions in some depth. Pay particular attention to bringing out and analyzing unspoken assumptions, of which there are many. (An example of one such assumption is that complete knowledge of the brain would imply complete knowledge of the mind.)
For this essay I am looking for serious engagement with the psychological, social, ethical, and especially philosophical issues that these visions of the future involve. Positions you take are to be backed up with the best arguments you can marshal.
This essay can go on a bit longer than the previous ones, but still try to keep it to about 5 pages or less.
Due date: March 24.
Write about some of the ideas for new modes of computer use in the near future, as discussed in class and in the readings for weeks 3 and 4 (ubiquitous and wearable computing, "mirror worlds"). You may write a fictional short story illustrating these ideas, or you may write an expository essay discussing them. (You need not include all of the proposed ideas, and you may add some ideas of your own.)
Keep to 3 or 4 pages length.
Address both the advantages and the limitations or disadvantages of the technologies. Also make a statement about the influence and value (positive or negative) of the technology on society of the future.
Due date: February 24.
Describe your own first experiences with computers. Discuss how those experiences shaped your perception of computers and your expectations about their present and potential capabilities. Finally, compare these impressions of computers with the visions of Turing, Simon, and other computer scientists whose ideas we have read and discussed.
Keep to between 500 and 1000 words (two to four pages).
Due date: February 7.
This chapter is available on eRes. Go to the library home page and select Electronic Reserve Room (ERes). You can search either by instructor name (moniot) or by course number (cslv 4660). The password is provided on the Blackboard site.