Palfrey, Hugon to Teach Senior Elective on Hacking

Next term, 10 to 12 students will sit down at the dining room table in Phelps House with Head of School John Palfrey and Jacques Hugon, Instructor in Computer Science, and examine the ethics and societal implications of hacking.

Palfrey and Hugon will be teaching the course “Hacking: A Course in Experiments,” a new interdisciplinary elective course for Seniors during fourth period next winter.

“[We will try] to use different interdisciplinary lenses to look at contemporary problems related to technology that affect society with an ethical [approach],” said Palfrey.

The class will be largely discussion-based and students for the class will be chosen at random, according to Deborah Olander, Scheduling Officer.

“One thing I can assure is that there will be no lecture during the course,” said Palfrey.

According to the course description, students in the class will explore hacking from various perspectives, examining how it can be both socially destructive and beneficial.

“[We will begin with] the kind of hacking that we generally think of as bad–[for instance] Russian computer scientists hacking into systems for financial gain and moving state administration documents from one country to another,” said Palfrey.

The course will then shift to focus on more ethically controversial issues, such as Wikileaks, in the middle of the term.

“If you take the [Wikileaks] case from the perspective of the news editors like [those] from ‘The New York Times’ who were involved, they would obviously think that [Wikileaks is] a good thing. But [when] the information had come out… from the perspective of the state department, they were fighting [Wikileaks] like crazy,” said Palfrey.

Towards the end of the term, the class will concentrate on positive, “pro-social” hacking, which has allowed for the “re-imagining of education, libraries and journalism,” according to the course description.

According to Palfrey, positive hacking is the “least obvious” type of hacking, as it takes a more conceptual approach to hacking.

The course syllabus is purposefully unfinished to leave room for the students to explore topics of their choice at the end of the course, according to Palfrey.

Palfrey said that even though he has possible readings and examples that students can study, he also hopes students will bring their own case studies to the table.