8. Risks, Failures and Responsibilities

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In this topic Risks, Failures and Responsibilities, we will look at some of the uses of computers where they have very direct personal implications for our health and safety. Who is responsible for the use and abuse that can result from these relationships and interactions?

Computers themselves are not capable of original thought but they can act as through they "think". Computers have capabilities to "remember" vast amounts of information and apply the information according to millions of rules that have been defined by hundreds of programmers over decades. How does this all come together? What happens when there are conflicts within the rules or data and something goes wrong?

Learning outcomes

  • recognize the benefits and dangers associated with computers
  • select web sites that provide additional insight into the issues
  • examine issues raised in discussions
  • write thoughtful responses to questions asked


  • failures, errors, reliability, safety, dependency, ethics, professionalism, responsibilities, violations, consequences, conflict of interest, change leadership

Study notes

  • We are becoming more dependent on technology. What safeguards should there be to ensure that we are safe from this technology?
  • Who should be responsible in the case of technology doing damage or causing injury?
  • What computer errors are just annoying? What are some examples of serious computer errors?
  • What is the difference between a "design flaw" and a "bug"? Is one more serious than the other?
  • What legal remedies should be available in cases of computer hardware and software problems?
  • Are we too dependent on computers?
  • Computer "models" of situations are created and used to test "what if..." How reliable and accurate are computer models? Are there computer models that are "better" than real life testing?
  • Which people or organizations have helped make systems safer or reduced the negative consequences of errors?


  1. Before you start the reading and the assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you already know about the topic - Risks, Failures and Responsibilities. Write a sentence or two about this in the I know... discussion.

  2. Read the Study notes for an overview for the topics that will be covered.

  3. Read, view, listen to several selections in the Media list.

  4. Choose 3 words from the Keywords list. Find a resource that provides information about each of the words and how they relates to the course. These should relate to technology. Be sure to include specific information about how technology is involved in your post. Post the words, links to your resources, and a brief description about your selection for each, to the discussion Risks, Failures and Responsibilities keywords.
    Review 3 others, and write a brief reply to the author for each.

  5. Search the web for resources that talk about medicine and computers. Find one that you think are particularly interesting. Your "find" should be dated within the last year. Write a critical-thinking question about the social issues discussed. Post the web site address and your question to the discussion Medicine and Computers. Facilitate your discussion and participate in at least 2 other discussions. Things to think about - Why is this important to society? What is the impact on society?

    Be aware of the dates on sources of material. Just like old library books or periodicals, old web resources can provide misleading and out-dated information.

  6. Can computer use harm your health? Find one or more resources that discuss any health hazards associated with computer use. Is there proof of harm with actual studies? Are there positive outcomes? Post a link to the resource and brief description of the finding along with your personal observations to the Health Impact of Computer Use discussion. review several other responses.

  7. Authority and responsibility - Government and its agencies - police, military, tax collectors, ... all have significant powers that have been expanded through the use of technology. How advanced are these technologies? What are some examples of highly advanced sophisticated technology adoption? Are there examples of government relying on old outdated technology? How are these impacting society generally or specific groups in particular? Do they use this authority responsibly? In the Authority and responsibility discussion, provide a link to a resource and brief description of the government use of technology and that impact it has on society.

  8. But can we trust other people? Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/ is an online encyclopedia with articles written and edited by site visitors. This experiment in creating an open-source reference "book" hosts about 6 million articles contributed by thousands of volunteers and is growing daily. Wikipedia receives 18 billion page views per month. Although Wikipedia's success has been tarnished a little by vandalism, some misinformation, and fights over certain controversial topics, the wiki concept of an open site maintained by its users, has been a hit.

    Look in Wikipedia for a topic that interests you or read the daily feature on the front page.
    Look at the History and Talk (links in the page header - these are separate pages) for the Wikipedia page you select.
    In the History page for the article you select, find a contributor with a profile and read their profile. In the Talk, see if there is any controversy or ideas for changes. Some topics have caused considerable discussion as there are a broad range of views. For some topics, there is even conflicting scientific data to support opposing views. In the Wikipedia and Trust discussion provide the link to page you reviewed and a brief summary of the story behind the story including information from the History and Talk pages.

  9. Interactive information Discovery is a combination of intelligent search engine and interactive visual interface. Visualize the search results so that the user can really understand what drives the list of hits. The search can be refined by manipulating the visualized keywords, thus creating a discovery process instead of the traditional trial-and-error type searches. Find 1-2 examples of interactive information discovery and search visualization. Is the visual display helpful? What did you learn about user interaction? Post a link and your comments to the Interactive information discovery discussion.

  10. Learn to code - There is a big push on to have all kids in K-12 learn to code and write programs for computer applications. There are many articles discussing including coding into education. There are sites that provide lessons and coding tools, apps and games. Hour of Code, Code Academy, Scratch, teach.mozilla.org, coding apps are just a few of the resources. Check out one of the coding for kids sites.
    Try the coding lessons yourself. What do you think? Does the resource you selected support kids, teachers learning to code? Post a link to the resource and a brief description along with your thoughts about the importance of learning to code to Learn to Code discussion.

  11. Project Groups Discussions - What do you wish you had known about group work online that you have discovered through these discussions? What would you share with the group next time? Post your reply to your Project Groups Discussions.

  12. Reflection - What are some questions that YOU still have about the topic? How could you find answers to these questions? Your response should be 2-3 sentences. Submit to I wonder... assignment.

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