Phil 365: Philosophy of computing — course description (Fall 2015)

University of Alberta
Faculty of Arts
Department of Philosophy


PHIL 365:   Philosophy of computing   —   Fall term (2015/16)

Katalin Bimbó

Nowadays, computers are ubiquitous, and computation plays an essential role in practically all areas of human knowledge.  The course will focus on questions that arose or became more salient since the emergence of electronic computers in the middle of the 20th century.

We will look at some models of computation and at their relationships to each other, as well as to human intelligence.  Various approaches to integrating skills and knowledge with computers and computation is called artificial intelligence.  Some of these approaches have different philosophical assumptions that we will try to uncover.

While computers might have surpassed humans in many areas, it is important to understand that not all (mathematically precise) problems have computable solutions — a prime example of which is the halting problem (for TM's, for instance).  Furthermore, certain (solvable) problems are easier to compute than others, that is, they have different complexity.  We will touch upon some related issues from information security and cryptology.

Later in the course, we will contemplate questions about quantum computers and their potential impact.  Are they practically feasible?  Will they render all communication of the internet fully public?  Then, we might think about how computers and arts mash together, or how computers and the internet affect our concepts about identity, privacy and ethics.

The goal of the course is to give you an overall understanding of computation and of its philosophical aspects.  (There is no official prerequisite for the course and no programming experience is required.  However, interest in computers, in philosophy or in informatics is likely to be useful.)


Time:   M, W, F  15:00 pm – 15:50 pm
Texts:   Ince, D., The Computer: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford (UK), 2011.   (required)
Other readings will be available through the e-classroom.


  For further information, please contact the instructor at Image of email address.
The (official) course outline is available in the e-classroom during the course.


[Last updated on March 23th, 2015.]