Spring 2021 - CMNS 353 D100

Topics in Technology and Society (4)

Do Machines Tell the Truth?

Class Number: 2959

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 26, 2021
    11:55 PM – 11:55 PM
    TAKE HOME-EXAM, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    CMNS 253W and one of CMNS 201W (201 or 260) or CMNS 202 (or 262). Recommended: CMNS 362.



Examination of the emergence and shaping of information and communication technologies in the digital age. Explores new media and social change between everyday life, social institutions, and various enterprises. Emphasis is placed on social context and relations of power. May repeat for credit if topic studied is different.


Do machines tell the truth? Is an algorithmic system for predicting criminality ‘reliable’? Do facial recognition systems ‘accurately’ identify individuals? What does a ‘fair’ measurement of productivity look like?

Or, to put it differently: What kinds of data do new technologies produce about us? How do they intersect with existing norms, standards, and cultures of what counts as ‘truth’, changing our information environment? How does all this impact the way we think about values like transparency or accountability – values which undergird our models for a healthy democratic society?

This course introduces critical theories and approaches for analysing the social impact of new information technologies, from contemporary debates in AI ethics to landmark studies of technology as a social phenomenon.

Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, CMNS353 will be offered fully online, and mostly asynchronously. This means that the course will combine recorded lectures and online annotations / discussions, allowing you to participate on your own schedule. The only synchronous (set time) elements will be a monthly live Zoom session. CMNS353 will not use any form of online proctoring.

If you have any questions about the course content / setup during enrolment, I’d be happy to chat – just email me at sun_ha@sfu.ca


  • Weekly Participation 30%
  • Final Project – Early Pitch 15%
  • Final Project – Midpoint Presentation 20%
  • Final Project – Full Submission 35%



No textbooks; all readings will be available online via instructor.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).