Big Data is Watching You! What data storage and “mining” capabilities exist, what can they do, with your digital footprint? Who profits from analyzing your digital footprint, and should you care
Some appropriate guidelines for a research paper, authored by Prof. Keith Baxter [Bax 02], are to be found on
Essay instructions.doc by clicking here.
In particular they call for a title page with 100 word abstract, text with 1.5 line spacing, 12 pt. type, and a
page of references, in alphabetical order by author. The form for both print and Internet references is spelled
out. Examples below. Refer to them in the text by (author, year, page) in line with the text (rather than with
footnotes at the bottom of the page.) I expect you to have several references and to actually refer to them in
your text. Avoid the heartache of plagiarism, Be sure to put the words of others in “quotation marks” and
give the reference.
There are also style sheets available at the library.
For one of the topics below, please research the topic, reading any books, journal articles, or on-line resources
that seem relevant, and write an essay of 2000-2500 words (about 5-7 pages of text) exploring the ethical
implications of the topic. You should identify issues and present reasoned arguments supporting more than
one point of view, then you may favor one side, or conclude that individuals must choose between competing
A good way to structure the argument is to build the strongest case you can manage for the opposing point of
view, and then argue from your favorite ethical theory (Maximize happiness, universal rules, social contract,
information ethics) in favor of your solution.
Research paper suggestions
In the textbook there are many suggestions for research topics. Any one of these would be acceptable.
Or one of these topics
In all topics, Please base your opinions on some ethical theory. For each topic area, narrow down to a more
Ethics Term Paper topics 2019-10-18, 11)15 AM
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1. Big Data is Watching You! What data storage and “mining” capabilities exist, what can they do, with
your digital footprint? Who profits from analyzing your digital footprint, and should you care?
2. Big Brother too!: Government surveillance now exceeds anything that George Orwell imagined. How
ethical is that?
3. Tracking people: Any cell phone that is turned on broadcasts its identity to nearby towers. This reveals
where your phone, and presumably you, are. Likewise, a small computer that attempts to connect to
wireless internet also reveals your location, a fact exploited by airports in Canada to track people. A car
equipped with GPS and Interned can give you traffic updates. But it can also be tracked, and hacked.
What about this? Advantages, privacy concerns?
4. Controlling the Internet: It was built as a distributed system, with very little centralized control
(fundamentally only the assignment of unique “IP addresses”). Is it out of hand? Can problems be
solved with some sort of control, either central or distributed, cooperatively or individualistically?
(Now, if you don’t think spam, viruses, pornography, fraud or anything else is a problem, you shouldn’t
pick this topic.)
5. Self-driving cars: They are supposed to be safer than the average drunk, distracted or texting driver.
But if they get into an accident, who is responsible? The owner? the car company? The programmers?
6. A Charter of Robot Rights and Responsibilities: Once computer systems are able to pass the Turing
test, “be indistinguishable for human beings in conversation,” what rights need to be accorded to them,
and particularly to autonomous robots of which a computer is the intelligence? The author Isaac
Asimov had a love-hate relationship with the idea of robots, and long ago proposed “Three laws of
robotics.” What about rights for the robots? Controls on robots? Roots as slaves? Votes for Robots?
7. Human-machine symbiosis: What does it mean to be human in a bionic age? What does (or should) the
future hold for our tool-making species and the electronics we may become bonded with? Do you want
your body and brain enhanced with calculating and communication capabilities? Who is in charge
8. Uses of new knowledge: For what we create, are we ethically entitled to recognition, money, or
control? Should there be laws “protecting” our intellectual output, or are we be ethically obliged to
share new knowledge and creative work? (Possible focus on Free vs. Proprietary Software, or on-line
sharing of journal articles.) Does “Copyright” still make sense in the electronic age? Perhaps we need
different rules for different types of creative activity.
9. The “dark” Internet: I have heard that there are many more “sites” on the web than can be found by
Google, because they are engaged in some kind of illicit activity. Umm, probably I don’t want to know
about them. But is this a problem?
10. Super-intelligence and A.I. : It can be noted that computer systems and software evolve in a similar
way as biological systems. (Wordperfect is being out-competed, PC-Write is extinct, while TCP/IPv4 is
a dominant force, like the dinosaurs, preventing anything more rational from taking hold…)
Meanwhile the power of computer hardware is increasing exponentially (Moore’s law.) Thus it seems
likely (Ray Kurzweil, “The Singularity is Near”) that a super-intelligence could evolve beyond
humanity’s power to control or even comprehend. Where does this leave us?
11. On-line voting: Can we achieve greater democracy by allowing people to vote from the comfort of
their homes? Can the requirements of secret ballot, and one person, one vote be both met? How can an
honest vote be ensured?
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12. Bitcoin and the EnvironmentBitcoin mining – finding new “hashes” – is energy intensive. Lately Hydro
Quebec declared a moratorium after receiving requests for power allocations exceeding 1/4 of its
generating capacity. Clearly people believe that they can discover bitcoins worth more than the cost of
this energy. Find out how much energy this is, and the price. Is this energy expenditure justified? Is
there a demand for all these bitcoins at the current price?
You need not be limited by my imagination, so if you want to propose another topic for your term paper, do
so, and ask for approval.
Reference style examples
Baxter, Keith 2002 Economics Essay Instructions, Bishop’s University,
URL=”https://cs.ubishops.ca/ljensen/ethics/Economics Essay instructions.doc”
Orwell, George 1949 Nineteen Eighty-four, Martin, Secker & Warburg Ltd, London
References can be numbered, or else preceded by the abbreviation used for the reference, e.g. [Bax 02] or
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