University Honors College - The Honorable mention

Spring 2020 Honors College Seminar Opportunity: CSE 410-Algorithms Have Arrived. What’s next? Open to ALL Majors

Posted by Tim on October 7, 2019 in Academics, Honors Experiences, Honors Seminars

Consider taking an Honors seminar this spring! There are three courses offered and they are all open to ANY major and there are NO Prerequisites for these courses for Honors scholars.

CSE 410: Algorithms have arrived. What’s Next?
registration #: Please contact Tim Matthews for registration into this course at
Professor Atri Rudra
214 Norton Hall

Algorithms make decisions in all parts of our lives, starting from the mundane (e.g. Netflix recommending us movies/TV shows), to the somewhat more relevant (e.g. algorithms deciding which ads Google shows you) to the downright worrisome (e.g. algorithms deciding the risk of a person who is arrested committing a crime in the future). Whether we like it or not, algorithms are here to stay: the economic benefit of automation provided by algorithms means companies and even governments will continue to use algorithms to make decisions that shape our lives. While the benefits of using algorithm to make such decisions can be obvious, these algorithm sometimes have unintended/unforeseen harmful effects.

This class will look into various algorithms in use in real life and go into depth of both the societal as well as technical issues. For students who are more technologically inclined, the hope is that this course will open their eyes to societal implications of technology that such students might create in the future (and at the very least see why claiming “But algorithms/math cannot be biased” is at best a cop-out). For students who are more interested in the societal implications of algorithms, the hope is that this class will give them a better understanding of the technical/mathematical underpinnings of these algorithms (because if you do not understand, at some non-trivial level, how these algorithms work you cannot accurately judge the societal impacts of an algorithm).

Overall the hope is that students who will build the technology of the future will be equipped to grapple with societal implications of their work (note that we are not saying that folks building technology need to be activists but when presented with two viable technical options they would pick one that has more societal benefits) and students who will be the future decision-makers can make more informed decisions on how algorithms can impact others (note that we are not saying that decision makers should create algorithm themselves but they should be able to understand how algorithms interacts with real life data).

Pre-requisites: Section A1 (which is for CSE majors) has a pre-requisite of CSE 331 OR CSE 474. Section A2 (which is meant for non-CSE majors) has no formal pre-requisites (besides being a junior in their major). For both sections, willingness to think beyond your usual boxes and openness to unfamiliar ideas will be crucial.

Tentative Logistics

The main graded component for the students will be a project that the students will be working on over the semester. The students will form groups of size 2-3 (depending on class size) and explore application of algorithms on some segment of society. Ideally, the group should not have everyone from the same school. The students are expected to come up an impact of the chosen algorithm in the said segment of society that has either not been studied before or has received little attention (either in popular media or academic research). The group is supposed to identify a potential research question that can be investigated further (some initial suggestions will be provided). The mini project will have three main components: (1) a written report, (2) a YouTube video and (3) a demo of a prototype. The students will submit a preliminary version of the report by the middle of the semester so that they can get feedback from the instructor that they can use towards their final report, video and prototype. Tentatively, the final report should be up to 10 pages and the video up to 10 minutes long. Each group will also meet with the instructor every week for a short (<= 10 mins) update on their progress in the last week. This is to ensure that the groups are making sufficient progress as the semester moves along.

Students in Section A1 are expected to be the main contributors in their group of building the prototype while students in Section A2 will be the primary contributors in their group to looking into the societal implications of their project. Students in two sections will be graded differently on the prototype based on their primary contributions.

Every week, the class will focus on one segment of society (e.g. criminal justice system or human resources (i.e. hiring)) and discuss the impact of algorithms on that segment of society OR will talk about a stage in the algorithm development pipeline. Students will be expected to participate in the in-class discussion. Whenever possible, we will have domain experts (e.g. someone from law school talking about the criminal justice system) come and talk during the week.

Depending on the class size, the last week (or two) will be used to screen the videos  that various student groups have submitted and the groups will answer any question or address any comments/thoughts that the class might have. All this feedback will be incorporated in the final report and prototype, which will be due in the finals week. We will use the final exam time for demo of the prototypes.

Any followup Questions?

If you would like to know more about this course, please stop by for Atri’s Honors College office hours from 2-3:20pm on Thursdays in Capen 106C. If that does not work, please feel free to email