Sophomore Seminars

Race and Gender in Silicon Valley

CS 80Q
CS106A (recommended pre- or co-requisite, not required)

Join us as we go behind the scenes on a year of big headlines about trouble in Silicon Valley. We'll start with basic questions such as: who decides who gets to see themselves as "a computer person"? How do early childhood and educational experiences shape our perceptions of our relationship to technology? Then we'll see how those questions are fundamental to a wide variety of recent events from #metoo and the fight against sexual harassment in tech companies, to how the under-representation of women and people of color in tech companies impacts the kinds of products that Silicon Valley brings to market. We'll see how data and AI raise the stakes on these questions of identity and technology: Exactly how much do companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook know about you, and how could that data be used to target you in potentially harmful ways? How can we ensure that AI technology will help reduce bias in human decision-making in areas from marketing to criminal justice, rather than amplify it?

This course will examine intersections of race, gender, sex, ethics, education, and technology, enabling class members to engage in the active debates happening right now that will set a course for the future, not only in Silicon Valley, but for all of humanity in the coming age of AI. In this course, we’ll learn what it means to love tech’s potential enough to be passionate about identifying its dangers and repairing its faults.



Meet the Instructor(s)

Cynthia Lee

"What students in this course should know about me is that I love technology! I have been coding since I was about 10 years old, but my career journey from there to today had plenty of side streets and u-turns. Because of that, I have always been fascinated by questions about who is or isn't welcome in the “clubhouse” of computer science. Now that technology and AI are poised to control more of our lives than ever before, I’m passionate about making sure that the superpower of coding is in the hands of those who will put thought into how to wield it responsibly. My Ph.D. research explored ways of harnessing markets and AI to solve problems, and now my work focuses on improving computer science education for all student communities and raising public awareness about technology issues such as bias and privacy. My work has been published at Vox and quoted in places including The Economist and KQED public radio. My favorite thing is teaching. In 2018 I was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Professor of the Year."