Spring 2024 - CMNS 353 D200

Topics in Science, Technology and Society (4)

AI/Algorithms & Power

Class Number: 4604

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Tue, 11:30 a.m.–2:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    17 CMNS units with a minimum grade of C- or 45 units with a minimum CGPA of 2.00.



Examination of the emergence and shaping of information and communication technologies and science 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).


Topic for Spring 2024:  AI, Algorithms & Power

How are AI and algorithmic systems actually influencing social processes like hiring and firing, policing and immigration, education and domestic life? When information technologies change the way we make decisions, they also impact the balance of power: between the manager and the worker, the teacher and the student, the journalist and the citizen. They change not just what kinds of data are collected about us, but who gets to declare the truth of who we are as a person.

In this course, we examine new and emerging cases of AI and algorithmic decision-making. Schools are using facial recognition to try and determine cheaters. Courts are trying to who should be behind bars for longer, or let out early. Wearable apps promise to track our exercise, sleep, emotions, and more. What are some of the key theories and patterns around these different use cases? How do they change, or sometimes replicate, earlier patterns – such as the relationship between facial recognition technologies and earlier uses of photography? Can every form of judgment be automated? Is such automation more neutral, or fair, or objective?

The aim is to 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.

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


  • Weekly Reading Response 30%
  • 2-3 Medium-Sized Research Papers 70%


The school expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline (note: as of May 1, 2009 the previous T10 series of policies covering Intellectual Honesty (T10.02) and Academic Discipline (T10.03) have been replaced with the new S10 series of policies). For further information see: www.sfu.ca/policies/Students/index.html.



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