CoursesTechnological Innovation & Civil Discourse in a Dynamic World
EAS 204

Technological Innovation & Civil Discourse in a Dynamic World

The promises of today’s emerging technologies include longer, healthier lives; safer, faster, and more efficient transportation; and immediate, far-reaching communication mechanisms. Rapid technological innovation often outpaces and challenges established legal regulations, cultural norms, and societal frameworks of communications.

Mondays, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Recent advances in machine learning, autonomous systems, nanomaterials, and neurotechnologies offer the potential to dramatically change the way our global society lives, works and shares information. With such prolific power, these technologies also pose new challenges and risks such as reduced individual privacy; political repercussions; and inequitable access to the benefits of technology. A robust civil discourse anchored in technical expertise, cultural context, and inclusivity can foster the optimization of the benefits of emerging technologies. This course is aimed in preparing undergraduate students to engage in and lead such discourses. The students will consider a series of engineering innovations from technical, legal and social perspectives and will hone the analytical and communication skills necessary to identify and address opportunities for civil discourse.

Interdisciplinary collaboration has proven fruitful in situating technological changes within their social, political, economic, and historical contexts. From an interdisciplinary lens, this course will consider the intersection between technological innovations and civil discourse from two angles. One perspective will be to examine the civil discourses about technological innovations. What do global conversations and public debates concerning powerful, rapidly emerging technologies look like? What roles do various stakeholders – such as, engineers, the media, NGOs, government agencies, and citizens – play? How can such discourses be better served?

A second perspective will be to examine the technologies that have been shown to enable or thwart civil discourse. How have global and local communications been either advanced or stifled by the growing proliferation of social media and smart phones? Who holds the responsibility to foster the benefits and to mitigate the risks and unintended consequences of these technologies? How can individual citizens as well as larger institutions best engage in civil discourse by employing emerging technologies?

Course Description:

The promises of today’s emerging technologies include longer, healthier lives; safer, faster, and more efficient transportation; and immediate, far-reaching communication mechanisms. Recent advances in machine learning, autonomous systems, nanomaterials, and neurotechnologies offer the potential to dramatically change the way our global society lives, works and shares information. With such prolific power, these technologies also pose new challenges and risks such as reduced individual privacy; political repercussions; and inequitable access to the benefits of technology. Rapid technological innovation often outpaces and challenges established legal regulations, cultural norms, and societal frameworks of communications.

A robust civil discourse anchored in technical expertise, cultural context, and inclusivity can foster the optimization of the benefits of emerging technologies. This course is aimed in preparing undergraduate students to engage in and lead such discourses. The students will consider a series of engineering innovations from technical, legal and social perspectives and will hone the analytical and communication skills necessary to identify and address opportunities for civil discourse.

Interdisciplinary collaboration has proven fruitful in situating technological changes within their social, political, economic, and historical contexts. From an interdisciplinary lens, this course will consider the intersection between technological innovations and civil discourse from two angles. One perspective will be to examine the civil discourses about technological innovations. What do global conversations and public debates concerning powerful, rapidly emerging technologies look like? What roles do various stakeholders – such as, engineers, the media, NGOs, government agencies, and citizens – play? How can such discourses be better served?

A second perspective will be to examine the technologies that have been shown to enable or thwart civil discourse. How have global and local communications been either advanced or stifled by the growing proliferation of social media and smart phones? Who holds the responsibility to foster the benefits and to mitigate the risks and unintended consequences of these technologies? How can individual citizens as well as larger institutions best engage in civil discourse by employing emerging technologies?

Course Format:

The weekly class meetings will include: (a) a guest speaker presenting scholarship within their field, selected to represent the various schools and departments across Penn; (b) a student-led discussion with the guest speaker; and (c) reading seminar discussions, anchored by student presentations and contextual material such as public policy papers, media coverage and other primary sources.

Student Coursework:

The final project for the course will be a policy paper in which students select a topic and analyze the discourse around that topic and propose policy guidance.  In their analyses, students will identify potential areas of communication breakdown, offering policy guidance on where scientific information is most needed and how best to create a more robust, evidence-based and equitable civil discourse. Students should propose at least one concrete proposal for improvement.

Example Syllabus

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