CISC P81/3.0 Computers: Applications and Implications

Original Author: Bob Tennent
Last Revised: September 16, 2006

Calendar Description
Computers are changing our lives; this is a course for any student interested in learning about computing. It surveys many fields of computing science, presents case studies of fascinating examples of computers in use in diverse areas, from searching the world-wide web to medicine, and discusses the possibilities, limitations, and risks of computers.

Note May not be taken concurrently with or subsequently to CISC 124/3.0.


One goal of this course is to foster appreciation of the applicability of computer-based technology in diverse areas, but also to increase awareness of the limits and risks of such technology.

The course will be taught as a series of case studies of computer-based applications in a wide variety of areas. Examples:

  • Deep Blue: the chess-playing computer that defeated Gary Kasparov;
  • Google: an internet search engine and its page-ranking method;
  • TEX: hyphenation and line-breaking in a professional-quality typesetter;
  • computer-assisted surgery at Kingston General Hospital;
  • SETI@home: distributed search for extraterrestial intelligence;
  • Therac-25: the Atomic Energy of Canada's computer controlled radiation-therapy machine and the consequences of software bugs.

Such exposure to computer-based applications should broaden students' perspectives on computing and also should improve their ability to solve problems, think algorithmically, and understand how to evaluate feasibility and interpret results.

Consideration will be given to social issues related to computer use and the internet, such as privacy, intellectual property, and trustworthiness of computer-based applications.

A second goal of the course is to increase understanding and appreciation of Computing Science as a discipline. The examples will be chosen to allow the instructors to give elementary presentations of as many areas of Computing Science as possible

Selected References
  • Sara Baase. A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues in Computing. Prentice-Hall, 1997.
  • George Beekman. Computer Confluence, Exploring Tomorrow's Technology. Pearson Education, 6th edition, 2004.
  • Alan W. Biermann. Great Ideas in Computer Science, a Gentle Introduction. The MIT Press, 1990.
  • J. Glenn Brookshear. Computer Science, an Overview. Addison Wesley, 1997.
  • Thomas Dean. Talking with Computers, Explorations in the Science and Technology of Computing. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • David Harel. Computers Ltd.: What They Really Can't Do. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • David Harel. Algorithmics: The Spirit of Computing. Addison Wesley, 3rd edition, 2004.
  • Larry Snyder. Fluency with Information Technology. Addison-Wesley, 2005.
  • Henry Mackay Walker. The Tao of Computing. Jones and Bartlett, 2005.