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Program in Information Technology and Society


Edward W. Felten

Executive Committee

Andrew W. Appel, Computer Science

Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Woodrow Wilson School, Sociology

Angela N.H. Creager, History

Paul J. DiMaggio, Sociology, Woodrow Wilson School

Edward W. Felten, Computer Science, Woodrow Wilson School

Michael D. Gordin, History

Andrea S. LaPaugh, Computer Science

Sharad Malik, Electrical Engineering

Margaret R. Martonosi, Electrical Engineering

Martin Ruef, Sociology

Matthew J. Salganik, Sociology

One would be hard pressed to find any aspect of society today that is not influenced by evolving technology in a significant way. Similarly, technology does not develop in a vacuum; by virtue of its applied nature, it is shaped by the needs and desires of individuals and the societies in which they live. Society and technology co-evolve, so that you cannot fully understand one without knowing something about the other. This is especially true in the area of information technology (IT) that broadly covers the computation and communication technologies that permeate virtually all aspects of corporate and social activity. The products and services enabled by it have had a major impact on the world economy and on social interactions. As we look to the future, emerging technologies in IT continue to be driven by critical societal needs in a variety of areas as diverse as business productivity, healthcare, security, and entertainment. At the same time, these technologies need to address the societal concerns, such as privacy and security, raised in course of their deployment. 

This intersection of IT and society is becoming increasingly important to consider in our educational mission--to understand how IT affects society, and how society affects IT. The Program in Information Technology and Society, established in partnership between the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP), provides access for Princeton undergraduates to the intellectual efforts at the intersection of IT and society through a coherent program of courses and research. Certificate recipients will have a greater understanding of the shaping, development and deployment of IT solutions for the benefit of society. They are thus likely to be stronger contributors to this enterprise in areas as diverse as technology development, policymaking, investing in technology and technology based for profit and nonprofit entrepreneurship.

Admission to the Program

Students are admitted to the program once they have chosen their field of concentration and consulted with the program director, who will assign them an adviser. Normally, they will have completed the program's core course prior to seeking admission.

Program of Study

The program provides students a focus on technology (IT) and society and places it in the broader context of technology and society. An introductory gateway course provides exposure to a broad set of issues at the intersection of technology and society. This helps them see the commonalities and differences on these issues between IT and other technology areas such as energy and biotechnology. Following the introductory course, students study both the technological and societal aspects of IT, which is critical to acquiring a good understanding of the disciplinary aspects of both sides of the issues that come up at this intersection. On the technology side, there is a rich set of courses in IT that have been designed to be accessible to all students on campus and that place the technical material in a broader application context. These are in the disciplines of computer science, electrical engineering, and operations research and financial engineering. Similarly on the societal side, IT issues are part of important courses in several departments such as sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School. In addition to depth in IT and society, the program emphasizes breadth through a course in an area of technology different from IT that addresses the intersection of technology and society, e.g. energy or biotechnology. Finally, students need to conduct research on a specific issue through a one semester project with a subsequent written component (junior paper/thesis component) as well as a presentation at a program symposium.

Program Requirements

The following requirements need to be satisfied to earn the program certifice (note: an asterisk indicates a one-time-only course or topic):

Core Course. EGR/HIS/SOC 277 Technology and Society. This course provides students with the intellectual tools needed to approach the rest of the program--a "set of lenses" that will help them view the issues being addressed in their work.

IT and Society Courses (4 courses). This course requirement is intended to provide an understanding of the technology and societal aspects through a discipline based study of both sides.

Technology Courses. Each student is required to take two technology courses from a list that includes the courses below. These courses are mostly drawn from a set that includes courses specifically designed for a wider campus audience (no prerequisites). An advanced/one-time-only course may be used to replace one or both of these courses with the permission of the program adviser.

COS 109 Computers in Our World (also EGR 109)
COS 432 Information Security
COS 444 Internet Auctions: Theory and Practice
ELE 222a/b The Computing Age (also EGR 222a/b)
ELE 386 Cyber Security (also EGR 386)
ELE 391 The Wireless Revolution: Telecommunications for the 21st Century (also EGR 391)
ORF 401 Electronic Commerce

Societal Courses. Each student is required to take two societal courses from a list that includes the courses below. An advanced/one-time-only course may be used to replace one or both of these courses with the permission of the program adviser.

PSY 214 Human Identity in the Age of Neuroscience and Information Technology
PSY 322 Human Machine Interaction (also ORF 322)
SOC 214 Creativity, Innovation, and Society
SOC 344 Communications, Culture, and Society
WWS 309 Media and Public Policy (also SOC 313)
*WWS 451 Special Topics in Public Affairs: The Internet and Public Policy

Breadth Course. In addition to the technology and society courses, each student is required to take one course that combines technology and society in an area outside of IT. For engineering/science students this should be based in the societal disciplines, and for humanities and social science students this should be based in the science/technology disciplines.

Representative Technology Courses

CBE 260 Ethics and Technology: Engineering in the Real World (also EGR 260)
CEE 102a/b Engineering in the Modern World (also EGR 102a/b, MAE 102 a/b)
*ENV 360 Biotech Plants and Animals: Frankenfood or Important Innovations?
MAE 228 Energy Solutions for the Next Century (also EGR 228, CBE 228)
*MAE 244 Introduction to Biomedical Innovation and Global Health (also EGR 244)
MAE 445 Entrepreneurial Engineering (also EGR 445)
MOL 205 Genes, Health, and Society

Representative Societal Courses
ELE 491 High-Tech Entrepreneurship (also EGR 491, ORF 491)
EGR 495 Special Topics in Entrepreneurship
HIS 393 Science in American History from the Civil War to the Present
HIS 398 Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspectives
*NES 266 Oil, Energy, and the Middle East (also ENV 266)
WWS 304 Science, Technology, and Public Policy
WWS 315 Bioethics and Public Policy
WWS 320 Human Genetics, Reproduction, and Public Policy (also MOL 320)
WWS 327 Pharmaceutical Research and Public Policy (also CHM 443)

Annual Symposium. Students are required to present their projects/theses to the program students and faculty at an annual symposium. This provides a mechanism for shared learning as well as for developing the common themes across the program.

Independent Work

All students are required to undertake a one-semester independent research project in IT and society. For A.B. students, this includes a junior paper. This may be substituted by a significant component in their senior thesis (at least a chapter). It is expected that some of these projects/theses will be jointly supervised by faculty members across the University divisions. The project/thesis component requires pre-approval of the student's program adviser.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who fulfill the requirements of the program receive a certificate of proficiency in information technology and society upon graduation.