Spring 2023 - CMNS 353 D200

Topics in Technology and Society (4)

AI/Algorithms & Power

Class Number: 1389

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 11:30 AM – 2:20 PM
    HCC 1800, Vancouver

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 23, 2023
    12:00 PM – 3:00 PM
    HCC 1900, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    CMNS 253W with a minimum grade of C- and one of CMNS 201W (201 or 260) or CMNS 202 (or 262), with a minimum grade of C-. 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. This course can be repeated once for credit if second topic is different (up to a maximum of two times).


AI and algorithm-driven systems are increasingly influencing decision-making at every level of society. Schools use facial recognition to try and determine cheaters. Recidivism prediction algorithms promise to identify dangerous criminals who should be behind bars for longer. But technological automation of decision-making also predates deep learning or the internet. Credit scoring is a hundred years old, and the pseudoscience of physiognomy in the 19th century falsely promised that criminals can be predicted by photographs of their faces. Can every form of judgment be automated? Is such automation more neutral, or fair, or objective? These are some of the most important questions around technology & society today.

In this course, we learn about the major debates and research around how AI and algorithms affect decision-making, and how these technologies affect questions of power, justice, and democracy. We often look at new, fast-moving research debates today in areas like AI ethics and critical data studies, including research within and beyond Communication studies.

No prior familiarity with the subject is required – only a willingness to read diverse kinds of research into technology’s impact on society, to talk about the questions we have in class, and to write about what we’ve learnt in the two assignments.


  • Weekly Reading Response 30%
  • Research Paper – Literature 35%
  • Research Paper – Analysis 35%


Grading breakdown is provisional & subject to change.



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


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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