CPS 49S Freshman Seminar
Google: The Computer Science Within and its Impact on Society

Course information
Outline of topics
Schedule and notes

Course Description

The Internet and World Wide Web have become repositories of the sum total of human knowledge, thoughts, intentions, and actions. Web search technology in general, and Google in particular, is the all-important tool we have today to extract actionable information from this vast mine of data. Millions of people use Google daily to satisfy their wants, needs, fears, and obsessions, which Google has transformed into an immensely successful and growing business. A not so obvious fact about Google is that its impressive array of services are based on basic concepts of Computer Science spanning information retrieval, databases, distributed systems, human computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and data mining. This course explores the science behind Google's technology, the social and economic impacts of this technology, and the ethical issues (privacy and censorship) surrounding this technology.

The course will center on reading, discussion, and writing. The instructor will present Google's technology and the Computer-Science principles underlying this technology. He will pose questions and present alternative points of view to consider. Students will come prepared to discuss their positions on specific questions and topics, and to support those positions with ideas and examples from the readings. The instructor will also pose quantitative problems, and students will come prepared to discuss their solutions in class.

The reading list, will include 3-4 popular books relevant to Google that cover scientific concepts, technology, as well as social and economic impact; supplemented with research publications, surveys, and reprints of articles from the popular press (e.g., The Economist, MIT Technology Review, Scientific American). One of the books is a recommended textbook. Throughout the course, students will read and discuss four different genres of writing in Computer Science:

  • Book chapters and articles in the popular press that present new technology, the underlying science, and its impact to a non-Computer-Scientist.
  • Industrial white papers and articles that focus on the business needs and impacts of a specific technology.
  • Book chapters and research articles that explain advanced concepts in Computer Science assuming only a basic knowledge of Computer Science.
  • Research publications that present a detailed scientific analysis of a new technology.

Writing assignments consist of short persuasive essays (2-page), which will be reviewed in depth; and a longer research paper (10-12 pages) exploring a relevant topic. There will be written homeworks with quantitative problems, and four short written examinations to motivate students to keep up with reading and discussions.

Time and Place

2:50pm-4:05pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Room 243 in the D Wing of the LSRC building. Find LSRC on the Duke map


Shivnath Babu
Web: http://www.cs.duke.edu/~shivnath/
Email: shivnath <at> cs <dot> duke <dot> edu
Office: Room 338 in the D Wing of LSRC
Office hours: After class on Tue and Thu, and by appointment


The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. By John Battelle. September, 2005. Portfolio Trade. Paperback version available.


Class participation 40%
Quizzes 40%
Writing assignments 20%

Honor Code

Under the Duke Honor Code, you are expected to submit your own work in this course, including homeworks, projects, and exams. On many occasions when working on homeworks and projects, it is useful to ask others (the instructor or other students) for hints or debugging help, or to talk generally about the written problems or programming strategies. Such activity is both acceptable and encouraged, but you must indicate in your submission any assistance you received. Any assistance received that is not given proper citation will be considered a violation of the Honor Code. In any event, you are responsible for understanding and being able to explain on your own all written and programming solutions that you submit. The course staff will pursue aggressively all suspected cases of Honor Code violations, and they will be handled through official University channels.

Shivnath Babu 2008.