Dr. Dean Taciuch
George Mason University

Spring 2012

Honors 353: 005 & 008
Technology in Contemporary Society
Course Syllabus

Course Description

The course will begin with the concept of Cybernetics, popularized by Norbert Wiener's Human Use of Human Beings, a book he wrote (in 1950) specifically to explain cybernetics to the interested non-expert. Cybernetics, as Wiener and the first generation of computer engineers defined it, is the science of control and communication in machines, animals, and human beings. Cybernetics gave us the concepts of "cyberspace" and the "cybernetic organism"—the cyborg. We will explore both of these concepts by studying later technological advances in computer science, biology, and the arts.


Norbert Wiener. The Human Use of Human Beings. ($15.00)
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity is Near. ($21.00)
Prices as of January 2011. If you are charged more at the bookstore, let me know.
Both texts are availbe as e-books as well, but the Wiener e-book is of poor quality.

Vernor Vinge, "Technological Singularity"
Institute for the Future: The Future of Science 2021
Bill Joy "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"
Long Now Foundation: The 10,000 Year Clock
Several talks from the TEDTalks series

Course Site:

We will use Blackboard for online discussions and essay submisions.


The assignments in this course consist of three essays, weekly reading responses, and a final exam. The first essay will be an analysis of some complex system in light of Norbert Wiener's concept of cybernetics. The system may be biological, social, mechanical, digital, or any combination of these. The second essay will be on Kurzweil's vision of technological progress. The third essay will be research topic on a specific technology or a specific issue related to tecnology.

The weekly responses will be posted to Blackboard. The weekly responses will be on a specific question which I will post, and they will be due before class on most Tuesdays (if there is an essay due that week, there is no weekly response). You may add to your posts after class, of course. I will also ask you to comment on the posts of other students. To earn full credit for the responses, you must post 10 weekly responses, and comment on at least five of your fellow students' posts.

The final exam will be a cumulative in-class short essay exam. I will post study terms a week or so before the exam. The exam date is. Bluebooks are not required, but they are convenient.

Essay 1 Feb. 23 20%
Essay 2 March 29 20%
Essay 3 May 3 25%
Weekly reading responses most Tuesdays 15%
Peer Review April 26 5%
Final Exam Thursday May 10 15%


Course Policies

Grading: Grades on the essays will be based primarily on the quality of the writing. I value clear, focused writing with plenty of examples. Grades on the research essay will be based on the quality of the research as well: I expect you to use the GMU LIbrary databases as well as the Internet.

Late Assignments: Late papers will lose 5% per day unless you make prior arrangements with me.

Revision Policy: The essays may be revised for a higher grade, but they must be substantially revised. You cannot lose a grade by revising, but a higher grade is not guaranteed. I have found that "B" papers (or higher) are often more difficult to revise, since serious revision requires thoroughly changing the essay's structure, and "B" papers usually have a fairly good structure. "C" papers (or lower) often respond more dramatically to revision, since the major changes they require are often more straightforward. I recommend revising "C" papers or lower only. If you plan to revise a "B" paper, please see me beforehand so we can discuss a revision strategy.

All revisions must be turned in b
y April 27

Plagiarism: The GMU Honor Code is available online. I will report suspected cases of plagiarism to the Honor Committee.



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