CPS 49S Freshman Seminar
Google: The Computer Science Within and its Impact on Society

Course information
Outline of topics
Schedule and notes


  • The stats of homework 4: average score 91, standard deviation 10.88, high score 100
  • The optional Quiz 5 for our class will be held during 7.00-7.30 on Friday, May 4. "ONLY" the following readings will be covered in Quiz 5:
    1. The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine (readings for 1/18 and 1/23)
    2. Behavior of Web searchers (readings for 1/30)
    3. Meta-search engines (readings for 2/13)
    4. Report on Google's click-fraud detection efforts (readings for 2/27, 3/01, and 3/06)
    5. The search economy (readings for 3/22)
    6. Perfect search (readings for 4/19)
    Note that the format of Quiz 5 will be like the other four quizzes.
  • Quiz 4 will be held on Tue 4/24. This Quiz will cover all readings starting from 4/03 (that is, starting with the "How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web" reading). The format of the quiz will be like the three previous ones.
  • Homework 5 has been posted on the Assignments page.

Course Description

The Internet and World Wide Web have become repositories of the sum total of human knowledge, thoughts, intentions, and actions. Web search technology in general, and Google in particular, is the all-important tool we have today to extract actionable information from this vast mine of data. Millions of people use Google daily to satisfy their wants, needs, fears, and obsessions, which Google has transformed into an immensely successful and growing business. A not so obvious fact about Google is that its impressive array of services are based on basic concepts of Computer Science spanning information retrieval, databases, distributed systems, human computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and data mining. This course explores the science behind Google's technology, the social and economic impacts of this technology, and the ethical issues (privacy and censorship) surrounding this technology.

The course will center on reading, discussion, and writing. The instructor will present Google's technology and the Computer-Science principles underlying this technology. He will pose questions and present alternative points of view to consider. Students will come prepared to discuss their positions on specific questions and topics, and to support those positions with ideas and examples from the readings. The instructor will also pose quantitative problems, and students will come prepared to discuss their solutions in class.

The reading list, will include 3-4 popular books relevant to Google that cover scientific concepts, technology, as well as social and economic impact; supplemented with research publications, surveys, and reprints of articles from the popular press (e.g., The Economist, MIT Technology Review, Scientific American). One of the books is a recommended textbook. Throughout the course, students will read and discuss four different genres of writing in Computer Science:

  • Book chapters and articles in the popular press that present new technology, the underlying science, and its impact to a non-Computer-Scientist.
  • Industrial white papers and articles that focus on the business needs and impacts of a specific technology.
  • Book chapters and research articles that explain advanced concepts in Computer Science assuming only a basic knowledge of Computer Science.
  • Research publications that present a detailed scientific analysis of a new technology.

Writing assignments consist of short persuasive essays (2-page), which will be reviewed in depth; and a longer research paper (10-12 pages) exploring a topic of the student's choosing. There will be written homeworks with quantitative problems, and two short written examinations to motivate students to keep up with reading and discussions.

Time and Place

2:50pm-4:05pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 311 Social sciences Building. Find it on the Duke map


Shivnath Babu
Web: http://www.cs.duke.edu/~shivnath/
Email: shivnath <at> cs <dot> duke <dot> edu
Office: D338 LSRC
Office hours: Tue 1.50-2.50, Thu 10.00-11.00, and by appointment

Teaching assistant

Azbayar Demberel
Email: asic <at> cs <dot> duke <dot> edu
Office: 021 North Building
Office hours: Mon and Wed 11:40-12:40, and by appointment


Class participation 20%
Leading a discussion 20%
Quizzes 20%
Writing assignments 40%

Honor Code

Under the Duke Honor Code, you are expected to submit your own work in this course, including homeworks, projects, and exams. On many occasions when working on homeworks and projects, it is useful to ask others (the instructor or other students) for hints or debugging help, or to talk generally about the written problems or programming strategies. Such activity is both acceptable and encouraged, but you must indicate in your submission any assistance you received. Any assistance received that is not given proper citation will be considered a violation of the Honor Code. In any event, you are responsible for understanding and being able to explain on your own all written and programming solutions that you submit. The course staff will pursue aggressively all suspected cases of Honor Code violations, and they will be handled through official University channels.

Shivnath Babu 2007.