Computer Technology and People : cse 129
Winter 2006  

Instructor: Dr. Ernesto Gomez - Course Web site:
Office: JB 337, E-mail:, Office Hours:W 2-4PM, Th 3:30-5:30PM and by appointment

Announcements: (watch this space)

  1. NOTES : Introduction (more to come)

  2. Final is comprehensive, includes material for midterm (both sets of notes)

  3. NOTES : Midterm

  4. NOTES : Final

  5. Midterm and final will be open notes, so take notes!

  6. Standing homework assignment: read chapter indicated in schedule; write your name, 1 or 2 questions on the chapter on an index card (to be turned in at the start of class).

  7. If you email me, please include 'CS 129' in the subject line, so I can tell your mail apart from all the spam!

Required Text: The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory: The New Physics of Information Tom Siegfried, ISBN: 0-471-39974-4 Wiley; 2000

Other recommended Texts

A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer, George Johnson, ISBN: 0375726187 Vintage; 2004

Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics Robert Gilmore, ISBN: 0-387-91495-1 Copernicus Books; 1995

Course Description

This course examines natural sciences and the use of computers and computer technology in the natural sciences. The course also introduces ethical and social issues related to technology, including issues of access, equity, privacy, the protection of children, and ownership of intellectual property.

A major goal of this course is to aid in understanding the tools and methods of the natural sciences, learning some of the important results of scientific inquiry, and discussing some major consequences of science and technology. To meet this goal, we will discuss the scientific method as applied within the natural sciences, and explore the underlying philosophy of science, as well as the social and historical context of scientific development.

Obviously, all of natural science is too broad a topic for any serious exploration in just one course; thus, we will specialize on one area as a case-study that uses computer science and computer-based technology and that illustrates important principles in the natural sciences. This one area is the underlying physics of the concept of information, as well as the applications of information to fields such as biology. This field includes basic concepts of fundamental computer science and the use of computer technology; most importantly, we will be examining emerging computer technology - technology that is now being developed in research laboratories.

The physics and biology of information and the relation of information to computer science, technology, and human society is an evolving area of active research. The past outcomes of this work include all of modern data communications networks; the future areas include all new modes of computation and understanding of the natural world (which is the primary topic area of all of natural science).

This course will not require any advanced mathematics, but will rely on descriptive concepts.

Attendance: If unexpected situations happen that cause you to be late to class, enter quietly. No one should interrupt the class by leaving early unless there is some emergency.

Grading: Midterm   30% : Final   30% : In-class work   40%

Letter Grade Assignment:

93-100% A

90-92% A -

86-89% B+

83-85% B

80-82% B -

76-79% C+

73-75% C

70-72% C -

66-69% D+

63-65% D 

60-62% D -

0-59% F

Schedule of Topics (Preliminary, may change)




In-class work


Ch. 0: Introduction

Introduction to the course. Why consider information. Information as the basis of the natural universe through thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.


Ch. 1: Beam up the Goulash

Quantum information, quantum teleportation - Star Trek science fiction, IBM Research Labs science fact. Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt) and Sir James Jeans and the failure of non-quantum mechanical physics. Otto Stern and Walter Gerlach and the need for quantum mechanical states. Introduction to the scientific method - the Stern-Gerlach experiment. Quantum states and state machines. From quantum mechanics to quantum information.


Ch. 2: Machines and Metaphors

From steam engines to Turing machines, and the advent of computer technology. The Charles Babbage and Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, solution. Alan Turing and the Turing machine as an example of a state machine.



Ch. 3: Information is Physical

James Clerk Maxwell's demon and Claudes Shannon's entropy: a consideration of thermodynamic principles that led to Maxwell's Demon and the concept of entropy. Work is required to reduce entropy. Shannon's application of entropy to the information content of any message. The digital divide, the issues of access and equity, and the suitability of material on the Internet for children


Ch. 4: The Quantum and the Computer

One thousand locks, one thousand keys, all at the same time: quantum computing. Quantum mechanics as the basis for the natural world, including all living systems. The extension of information and information processing through quantum mechanics. Quantum states and q-bits. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.        


Review and midterm examination


Ch. 5: The Computational Cell

The biological cell as a computer. The biological cell as an information processing system; how a cell processes and generates information through natural processes. Genes as the basis of cellular information. DNA, codons, amino acids, and protein structure. James Watson and Francis Crick and the structure of DNA; further examination of the scientific method. From codons to codes. Issues of privacy


Ch. 6: The Computational Brain

The biological brain as a computer. How the brain works and why the brain is a very general computer.



Ch. 7: Consciousness and Complexity

Complexity and an approach to consciousness. When will a computer be self-aware? How consciousness comes about from highly interconnected (complex) systems of information processing. Comparisons between the information capacity of the human brain and the Internet. The coming debate between a faith-based soul and sentient consciousness as a result of sufficient naturally evolved complexity. The ethical and societal issues of attempting to construct an artificial sentient consciousness (e.g., Mr. Data from Star Trek, HAL from 2001 A Space Odyssey). 


Ch. 12: The Bit and the Pendulum

Quantum information and the natural world, and review of the course. Issues of intellectual property