UPDATE (7/18/02): Final project writeups by students in Spring '01-'02 are now available; scroll to the bottom of this page to the downloadable versions.

Computers and Social Decisions (3 units)
Spring Quarter 2001-2002, Stanford University
Instructor:  Todd Davies
Meeting Time: Wednesdays 7:00-9:00 PM
Location: 200:201 (History Corner, 2nd floor)
Instructor's Office: 460-040C (Margaret Jacks Hall, lower level)
Phone: x3-4091; Fax: x3-5666
Email: tdavies@NOSPAMcsli.stanford.edu (Note: you'll need to delete "NOSPAM" from the address when you actually send to it)
Office Hours: Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays 10:30 AM - 12:00 Noon

Note: This  is now a retrospective syllabus.

This course represents an interdisciplinary approach to questions like the following: How can computers and computer networks be used to democratize decision making in both society and smaller groupings of people?  What are the motivations for trying to do so?  What are the barriers?  What have people tried to do  in this area, and what has happened as a result?  We will review theories and empirical findings and attempt to apply these to the real-world challenges of democracy.  In addition to readings, informal lectures, and a final exam, the course will involve each student in a service-learning project that will span most of the quarter.   This project should make at least some of the issues in the design of social decision systems more apparent, and help students to see how research questions can both inform and be informed by practical interventions.


Weeks 1 & 2 (4/3,10) - Introduction/Overview
New versus old media, historical challenges involved in democracy and social decision making, and assumptions and motivations underlying the course.
Lecture: Background on Internet and Democracy
Required Reading:
(a)  Benjamin R. Barber (Winter,1998-99), "Three Scenarios for the Future of Technology and Strong Democracy", Political Science Quarterly, 113(4):573-589 [pdf file]
(b)  Howard Rheingold (November 1999), "The New Interactivism", Voxcap.com
Project assignment announced

Weeks 2 & 3 (4/10,17) - The Internet and Deliberative Democracy
Habermas and the "public sphere", theories of deliberative democracy, and deliberative polling.  The Internet and community: digital divides and online communities.
Film ScreeningSecrets of Silicon Valley (2001, 60 minutes)
Lecture: U.S. Politics, Deliberative Democracy, and the Internet
Required Reading:
(a) James S. Fishkin; Robert C. Luskin; and Roger Jowell (October 2000), "Deliberative Polling and Public Consultation", Parliamentary Affairs, 53(4):657-666
(b)  Cass Sunstein (Summer 2001), "The Daily We", Boston Review (replies optional)
*Guest speaker (4/17): Magda Escobar,  Plugged In, East Palo Alto

Weeks 3 & 4 (4/17,24) - The Psychology of Social Decisions: Influence
Psychology of persuasion: techniques of influence and coercion, group processes, and conformity.  Framing and political psychology.
Lecture: Psychology of Social Decisions: Influence
Required Reading:
George A Quattrone and Amos Tversky (September 1988), "Contrasting Rational and Psychological Analyses of Political Choice", American Political Science Review, 82(3):719-736 [requires Stanford address]
Film Screening (4/24): Groupthink (1991, 25 minutes)
Project feedback session

Weeks 4 & 5 (4/24,5/1) - Decision Theory: Autonomous Action
Utility theory, game theory, bargainiing, and social dilemmas.  Market mechanisms, Pareto efficiency, and auctions.
Lecture: Utility Theory and Game Theory
Required Reading:
Shaun Hargreaves Heap, Martin Hollis, Bruce Lyons, Robert Sugden, and Albert Weale (1992), The Theory of Choice: A Critical Guide, Oxford:Blackwell Publishers, pp. 94-154
*Guest speaker (5/1): Barclay Corbus,   W.R. Hambrecht and Company, San Francisco

Weeks 5 & 6 (5/1,8) - Decision Theory: Collective Action
Social choice theory and political economy.  Electoral systems and attempts at systemic change.
Lecture: Social Choice Theory and Electoral Systems
Required Reading:
Joe B. Stevens (1993), The Economics of Collective Choice, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 133-167
*Guest speaker (5/8): Caleb Kleppner, The Center for Voting and Democracy, Western Regional Office, San Francisco

Weeks 6 & 7 (5/8,15) - Voting Technology
Voting system design, online voting, and security.  Contested elections (e.g., 2000 in Florida) and ballot design.
Required Reading:
Peter G. Neumann (September 1993), "Security Criteria for Electronic Voting", 16th National Computer Security Conference, Baltimore, Maryland
*Guest speaker (5/15):  Peter G. Neumann, Computer Science Laboratory, SRI International, Menlo Park

Weeks 7 & 8 (5/15,22) - The Psychology of Social Decisions: Biases
Biased assimilation, prejudice, attribution biases, selfishness and in-group favoritism.  Fairness norms and cultural effects on values.
Lecture: Psychology of Social Decisions: Biases and Hope
Required Reading:
Jonathan Baron (2000), Thinking and Deciding (3rd Edition), Cambridge University Press, pp. 409-461
Project discussion session

Weeks 8 & 9 (5/22,29) - The Internet and Political Consciousness
Alternative/independent media.  Uses of the Internet for political and labor organizing.  Consensus decision making and collective action.
Lecture: Market Failure and the Internet
Required Reading:
(a)  Dorothy Kidd (2001), "Introduction" to special issue on the Internet and Social Movements, Peace Review, 13(3):325-329 (pick one other article from contents to discuss in class) [NOTE: requires Stanford address - you may need to access this through searching Socrates at library.stanford.edu]
(b) War Resisters League (1989), description of "Consensus Decision Making", Handbook for Nonviolent Action
*Guest speaker (5/29): Dorothy Kidd,  Department of Media Studies, University of San Francisco

Weeks 9 & 10 (5/29,6/5) - Internet Law and Governance
Privacy, copyright, and censorship. ICANN and other aspects of Internet governance.
Suggested LInk: Association for Computing Machinery's Internet Governance project
Suggested Link: Consumer Project on Technology's page on the Hague Conference on Private International Law
Required Reading:
(a)  Lawrence Lessig (November/December 2001), "The Internet Under Siege", Foreign Policy Magazine
(b)  Jeffrey Rosen (April 30, 2000), "The Eroded Self", The New York Times Sunday Magazine
*Guest speaker (6/5): Will Doherty,  Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Online Policy Group, San Francisco

Week 10 (6/5) - Group Project Presentations

1. A multi-stage project (60%)
2. Final exam (40%)
3. Borderline grades will be influenced by attendance and participation (both quality and quantity)

This is a service learning course, and each student is expected to participate in a project designed to serve some greater community interest. 

Final project writeups:

(1) Survey of Community Web Sites, by Sarah Dimson, Laura Hiatt, and Brendan O'Connor (Client: East Palo Alto Community Network Project) [.doc file]

(2) Using the Internet as a tool for Activism: Building the Stanford Labor Action Coalition website and measuring its impact on the campus, by Bill Bowen and Benjamin Sywulka (Client: Stanford Labor Action Coalition) [.doc file]

(3) Survey of Public Attitudes Toward Alternative Electoral Systems by Richard Lengsavath and Raja Shah (Client: U.S. voters) [.doc file]