Feed on

Notre Dame Memories



Project 5

Christopher Beaufils

David Durkin

Matthew Reilly

The number of students receiving computer science degrees in the United States has grown over the years in a cyclical manner. In the 1980s there was a surge of students gaining degrees due to the introduction of personal computers. However, universities could not keep up with the rapidly increasing demand and were forced to restrict admission to the major. The second surge occurred with the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, but that burst in 2003 and interest faded. Now we are in the midst of a third surge that began in 2009 and could prove to be the most impactful. (Eric Roberts, A History of Capacity Challenges in Computer Science). Our world is becoming increasingly dependent on technology, with new products and applications being created everyday. And this time students want to learn computer science because “they are genuinely excited about it” according to Ran Libeskind-Hadas, the computer science chair at Harvey Mudd College. But recently there has been debate over whether college provides the best means to learn computer science.

The ACM guidelines for a computer science program are organized into 18 Knowledge Areas such as algorithms and complexity, human-computer interaction, and programming languages (acm.org). It is an ambitious list of requirements but I believe it can be shortened to allow students to master a smaller range of materials. For example, I believe classes involving topics like system administration and security should be enforced much more heavily than one like graphics and visualization or operating systems. Certain skills are extremely useful in any work environment but oftentimes students are wasting their efforts learning material that may never be useful in their careers. I think Notre Dame does an excellent job in adapting their own curriculum and offering a variety of electives. They place a great emphasis on theory, which is important, but I would have liked to receive more practice in practical skills and design. On the other hand, programming skills and design are the forte of coding bootcamps that are growing rapidly around the country. These bootcamps create proficient developers in usually 3-6 week intensive programs. People sign up for these as either an attempt to reroute their careers or as a substitute for a college education in computer science. I think bootcamps are an excellent introduction to programming for beginners. The more programmers we have in the world the better, as the “Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 1 million more jobs than students in just six years” (Taylor Soper, Analysis: The exploding demand for computer science education, and why America needs to keep up). Thankfully, companies are beginning to open up to the idea of hiring programmers without a degree. Even though they recognize that a fundamental understanding is only attained through college, they also recognize that many positions don’t require a deep understanding of every computer science principle (Turn On, Code In, Drop Out: Tech Programmers Don’t Need College Diplomas). I value my college education and would not have done a bootcamp instead. The TripleByte study proved that “bootrstrap graduates match or beat college grads on practical skills, and lose on deep knowledge” (Bootcamps vs. College). I believe that I can easily improve upon my practical skills once I join the work force, but cannot do so as easily when it comes to theory and algorithms. The best way to become an elite programmer is through a college education. Nowhere else can you receiver a proper foundation for the complex subject that is computer science. Notre Dame has given me a great education in a variety of topics, as well as the tools necessary to continue my education on my own.

Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars are rapidly becoming a reality. Not too long ago these vehicles were considered part of a utopian future to hopefully be achieved sometime within the century. Now they will inevitably be a part of our generation and we will be responsible for integrating them with our society. Companies from auto manufacturers to ride-sharing apps are conducting their own testing with hopes of being the first to breakthrough in the pursuit of the perfect self-driving car. Just last month, Tesla announced “All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware”. As autonomous vehicles quickly become a part of our world we must be informed in order to keep ourselves safe.

I believe that a world full of majority autonomous vehicles could lead to a world that is simultaneously much safer yet much more at risk. The streets would be safer because all cars would essentially be operating in sync. In a world with only a few autonomous vehicles we have seen accidents between manned and unmanned cars simply because human drivers have trouble interacting with AI vehicles. This is due to the reasoning given by Ryan Beene in the Seattle Times – robot drivers are odd and that’s why they get hit. He also argues that smoothing out the interaction between drivers and robots is one of the biggest challenges, but I believe it isn’t an obstacle we must overcome at all. If we instead completely remove human drivers from the equation we will see a massive reduction in accidents for self-driving cars, seeing as the majority of their accidents are due to human drivers. Once all cars are autonomous they will essentially all be operating on the same grid. A robot car will be able to drive perfectly in a world full of exclusively robot cars. However that is precisely where the risk is introduced. If every car is on such a grid and controlled by its operating software, then it is liable to be hacked. I fear a situation where a significant number, if not all vehicles suffer a security breach that will cost the lives of hundreds of passengers. We must be careful to put our safety completely in the hands of these self-driving cars, and should be wary to ever give up 100% control of the wheel. The human in the car will still have a responsibility to be alert to their surroundings regardless of who is the primary driver. Additionally, the government has decided to step in and guide the adoption of self-driving cars. The Department of Transportation has introduced a 15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles. According to Cecilia Kang in the New York Times, the regulations “sent a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars”. She adds that the government’s endorsement will speed up the rollout of autonomous cars, and it is important that they are aware and involved from an early stage. With the proper safety and security measures in place, autonomous cars could save hundreds of lives on the road and in the words of Lyft president John Zimmer, be “the third transportation revolution”.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a subfield of computer science that focuses on computers being able to perform human functions that require acting intelligently. It doesn’t mean creating computers that can pass as humans, but more being able to evaluate a situation and use its knowledge to perform the appropriate action. It is difficult to define the concepts of thought and intelligence, but I find AI to be different than human intelligence. AI can draw conclusions based on data it has collected which is regarded as its own “knowledge” but doesn’t create original thoughts. It can only repeat what it has seen before. Humans on the other hand can have unique opinions and original, creative thoughts. We can also reason because we have goals, beliefs, and emotions that affect us in ways that cannot be quantified. The human mind is incredibly complex and impossible to recreate by human hands. That is why we are able to think and set ourselves apart from all other life forms and now computers as well. No matter the advancements in AI I don’t believe we will ever be able to mimic human intelligence for computers because machines will never experience emotion or a sense of individuality.

The current implementations of AI we have today are astounding feats of machinery and programming. The defeat of Lee Sedol, the best Go player in the world, at the hands of AlphaGo was one of the greatest AI accomplishments in history and well detailed by Christopher Moyer in his piece on The Atlantic. The game of Go is considered the “Holy Grail” of artificial intelligence due to the infinite number of ways the game can play out. AlphaGo was Google’s AI program that learned all the countless possible moves by playing itself millions of times. It stored the resulting win percentage for every move. It could not be easily outsmarted, however it couldn’t even play. The AlphaGo program was not a robot – a human had to physically place the pieces on the board for the computer. In my opinion, this still counts as AI at its finest. AlphaGo was doing all of the thinking, and the human was merely following orders. Did the program need arms and legs to make a decision and also execute the move on the board? In most cases, it is unnecessary to evolve our AI programs into full-fledged robots attempting to disguise as humans. We have already defined the clear differences between artificial and human intelligence, so it makes no sense trying to bridge the gap. This is where society grows fearful of machines that can think and act like us with the ability to eventually overtake us. Even if we create such robots, I don’t ever envision a scenario where they develop desires and goals that involve being the dominant being. Truthfully, we can capitalize on AI for our own benefit instead of trying to make an independent being. We want them to process information at speeds we cannot so that we can make conclusions for ourselves, not for their own sake. To me, the biggest fear with AI is all of the information amassed by such machines. With knowledge comes power, and how much power will we give them before the scales are tipped in favor of robots? This question is examined in depth in the Washington Post article by Joel Achenbach, who conveys that we shouldn’t fear death at the hands of robots but we must be wary to relinquish so much control. The fact that Siri knows all of the contents on my phone is discomforting regardless of whether or not I am hiding something. And all of the things I have said and done since I introduced Siri to my life are stored somewhere in order for Siri to help me in the future. I am in full favor of using an AI assistant to help me organize my life and be more productive, but it is also very scary that a machine can know more about me than I do of myself.


Trolling is the act of incessantly and often anonymously harassing users of the Internet. It can range from basic name-calling and unpleasant “jokes” to direct threats and flagrant defamation of character. Trolling takes place mostly in forums, social media, and comment sections across the Internet, performed by trolls all around the globe. But it is not so easy to define a troll or their motives. Oftentimes a troll will have self-confidence or resentment issues and will try to force his iniquities on random strangers online. Other times they can be young people or just plain immature, and will find humor in verbally attacking an innocent person. Without a clear face or motive trolls are difficult to shutdown, as seen by the Yik Yak article by Johnathan Mahler in the New York Times . They are free to roam the Internet with a concealed or faux identity and torment users who are seeking no quarrel. This behavior is flat out unacceptable and is becoming more and more dangerous as the Internet continues to expand.

One example of how trolling can become extremely harmful is GamerGate, which is well documented by Casey Johnston in her article in “Ars Techinca”. It began in 2014 as a campaign of aggressive harassment against women for focusing on issues of sexism and progressivism in video game culture. It grew to single out developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian. The trolls involved were able to organize their attacks through the #GamerGate hashtag and troll anonymously through platforms such as 4chan and Reddit. Altogether they inflicted serious mental and emotional damage on these key female figures, and continue to pester them with name-calling and threats to them and their families. With no official leaders or spokespeople, GamerGate becomes very difficult to stop and punish. Since many involved remained anonymous they were able to get away with their evil actions, and that is a dangerous sign of encouragement for other trolls. If they can say whatever they want on the Internet without repercussions, I don’t trust them to be restrained by some sort of moral compass alone. I believe widespread defamation should not be allowed just anywhere on the Internet. It is impossible to sensor everything but I understand that there may be certain forums where it is best to let trolls exist and get out their vices while blocking their content on many others. But when trolling begins to single out individuals like GamerGate did, then this is cyberbullying and is outright unacceptable. It is much easier to censor this content and single out users who are negatively singling out others. If we at least attempt to prevent the gross amounts of trolling and cyberbullying taking place on the Internet, we are sending a message that this behavior is not acceptable and we refuse to look the other way while this type of evil occurs.

Lastly, I believe that sharing positive dialogue and creative ideas online is a good thing, but only in the right forum. In many situations, Internet discussions can begin as a positive sharing of ideas but quickly devolve into back and forth bickering. While you may have joined a discussion in hopes of enlightening fellow users, it is unlikely that ideas will ever change in this setting. It is important to discern the locations on the Internet meant for fruitful discussion and those meant for nonsensical memes and trolls.


Wikileaks is an international nonprofit organization founded in 2006. Its main goal is to publish first-source, classified information. To this date, they have released over 10,000 private documents. They operate by receiving information from whistleblowers, acting as a middleman to protect these peoples’ identities and then review and distribute the information on a wide scale through their website. They have been extremely careful over the years to protect everyone involved while still divulging top secrets from around the world. For example, our podcast takes a look at Wikileaks’ new campaign known as Vault 7, a series of leaks on the CIA that claims and proves how the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code. It shows how through their hacking abilities they have replaced the NSA and given up their need to disclose any information to outside agencies. With their own NSA that has less accountability, the CIA exceeded its mandated powers and also placed our world at risk through their negligence by allowing their dangerous code to be available to anyone on the Internet. Without Wikileaks we would have been completely in the dark regarding this entire situation. What government entity exists to place checks and balances on our intelligence agencies? We must trust our government institutions in order to have a democracy but ignorance can be very dangerous. By allowing the CIA to have a clean slate we are giving them the option to abuse their own power with no consequence to themselves. If the government has performed corrupt activity in the past they are liable to repeat their offenses.

I explained in the podcast that I believe Wikileaks is more of a messenger than the ones creating the messages. They receive millions more documents than they choose to publish, and have shown good discretion with the majority of their leaks. In the case of the election leaks of 2008 and 2016, they heavily swayed public opinion and as a result had a great effect on the outcome of the election. I believe in scenarios like these, Wikileaks did not properly serve their purpose because they undermined our election system, a fundamental process of our American democracy. However in other cases they release information that is important for people to know and that does not place any more people in harm’s way. Wikileaks in many ways can be considered more trustworthy than the US government because they do not have an agenda, and have no reasoning to release information that isn’t true. There are times when Wikileaks reveals information that we would have never found out about otherwise, such as Vault 7. These kinds of leaks are important for us to be aware of what is occurring in the world and take proper precautions. It is also important that Wikileaks serve as an “eye in the sky” to strike fear into the hearts of our government institutions. Hopefully the fear that their operations can become transparent at any moment will influence them to act justly and with the best interests of the American people in mind.

Wikileaks Podcast



Project 3 Option 1

Team Members

Christopher Beaufils

David Durkin

Matthew Reilly

Travis Gayle


Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast and AT&T, should give all consumers equal access to all available and legal content that is offered on the Internet. It prevents ISPs from blocking or favoring any content, and also from making money by providing better streaming options to content providers willing to pay top dollar for the best quality. Thanks to net neutrality, everyone delivering content to us consumers is on an equal playing field and we get access to all content so everyone wins, right? Well ever since net neutrality became the law, there have been opponents, which include the ISPs themselves and the new commissioner of the FCC, Ajit Pai. Their main argument is that net neutrality hinders ISP investment since they have no incentive to improve the quality of their streaming, as explained by Amy Nordrum in the IEEE Spectrum article. However, the latest US Census figures show that the total value of investments by wired, mobile, and satellite telecommunications carriers increased by over $1 billion from the year 2014 to 2015 alone (2014 is when the net neutrality laws took effect). The real reason ISPs have no incentive to invest in their own services is because these companies have monopolized the market. Companies such as Charter and Time Warner Cable, and also AT&T and DirecTV have merged to form market behemoths that not only create their own content but also can deliver to you through their own channels. This creates two major problems that are highlighted by Nilay Patel in his article in “The Verge” – first is that the number of existing ISPs is small and decreasing with each merger or takeover. The true reason these companies don’t invest in the quality of their streaming is because there is no viable alternative, seeing as the few other companies all provide relatively similar service for the same price. The other problem is the ISPs who are also service providers, such as Comcast who owns NBCUniversal. Without regulation, Comcast could deliver NBC content at peak speeds and leave Netflix with minimal remaining bandwidth. They could also charge outside content services more while giving their own content a unique advantage. The problems with ISPs exist regardless of net neutrality and these laws are only one step towards fixing this greater problem.

One way to solve this issue is to encourage cities to develop their own broadband networks. In theory, this would create more competition that would result in faster Internet service. This would require legal battles and a major cost overhead, but it is better than allowing the industry tycoons to have free reign. Net neutrality is necessary in our current situation to prevent ISPs from creating “fast” and “slow” lanes when streaming. We are already paying our ISPs and content providers directly, so there is no need for additional payment by both us consumers and content providers to the ISPs for essentially the same streaming quality. But without net neutrality that is what we will be victim to – a two-sided market where ISPs can equally extort both customers with essentially no resistance from the FCC or any pressure from other providers, who will all essentially follow suit. We cannot be so naive to trust ISPs to deliver top quality at a reasonable cost without any regulation placed upon them. That is the job of the FCC, and by removing them from the picture we are essentially making ourselves victim to a corrupt Internet experience.

IBM is clearly responsible for aiding Nazi Germany in their mission to eliminate the Jews. They are at fault for providing the Nazis with the technology, teaching them to use it, and helping them maintain these systems. They went above and beyond to aid their client with these solutions, but the only problem was this client was a machine of destruction with no regard for humanity. The CEO of IBM Thomas Watson maintained a friendly relationship with Hitler, and was known to share lunches with him from time to time. The fact that he was able to be in the presence of a blatant evildoer and not only continue their relationship but also actively assist him in his devious missions is inexcusable and IBM must be held responsible for promoting such evil.

The reason that IBM aided the Nazis during the Holocaust was to maximize their profit, just like every other company who took up a relationship with the enemy. Germany was in the midst of overtaking all of Europe and American companies did not want to be boxed out of this market. Ford and GM are examples of such companies who provided products and services to Nazi Germany in an attempt to establish this relationship before Germany had overtaken the continent and it was too late. According to the “Mic” article by Jack Smith, the difference between IBM and said companies is manner in which IBM provided solutions. They played a large role in locating and transporting Jews to concentration camps throughout the lands they would conquer. This was done using punch card machines and advanced technology to keep the trains operating like clockwork. IBM would go the extra mile to teach Germans how to use their new toys and help maintain them with monthly checkups. When IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust was brought to light, they released a public statement that claimed their German office was simply overtaken and out of their control. But findings from Edwin Black in his 2001 book proved that the higher management in New York was aware and actively involved in the entire conspiracy. IBM knew all along exactly who they were dealing with and how their own products would be used, yet still chose to ignore all of that for a few extra coins. No amount of money is worth a human life and we must hold all corporations to the same standard as we do humans. They were extremely unethical by dealing with Germany at all. Granted, times were different during the war. Communication back then is incomparable to how news spreads today, and it is possible that they lost control of their German branch. And it has been said that no one knew the full extent of the destruction and death brought upon by Hitler’s Germany until the very end of the war. That being said, I cannot give IBM a way out by claiming gross negligence the same way Richard Bernstein does in his New York Times article. Any man who is dining with Hitler has a full perspective of the man and his intentions. And if IBM technicians were entering containment camps to perform maintenance on punch card machines, then they saw the brutal conditions where Jews were prisoners. They had a choice to help Hitler for profit, or walk away and make it much harder for the Nazis to accomplish their mission. Unfortunately, IBM made the wrong choice and their hands will be tainted until they accept responsibility and apologize.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things refers to everyday devices that are all connected through the Internet. You can wear some of these devices such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, or you can deck out your entire house in IoT devices. Refrigerators, thermostats, televisions and speaker systems all are being made with embedded systems to allow for smarter appliances that will make our lives easier. These devices have made major advancements in the way we live in recent years and that trend shows no signs of slowing. However, it has recently been discovered that they are much more dangerous than we think. Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic writes about the time last year when a hacker was able to take control of thousands of IoT devices, and knock down many major websites and services such as Twitter, Reddit, and Spotify by overloading it with requests from these devices. Without the proper security, these devices put our country at risk. In a world where every device is connected, a breach could prove more costly than ever.

In my opinion, are three possible solutions to the security and privacy issues regarding the Internet of Things. The first solution is to introduce government regulations to ensure all products are up to a certain standard before being released to the public. We can entrust our government with this responsibility because they realize that our entire country, including many governmental operations, is at great risk of security breaches through IoT devices. A second solution involves introducing regulations through a third-party verification. This independent group would endorse products that meet a minimum security standard, which Amy Nordrum of IEEE Spectrum compares to how the US Department of Agriculture is in charge of defining foods as “organic” or not. With either of these entities enforcing regulations on companies we will be able to prevent products from entering the market if they are not safe. The fault with these solutions is that IoT technology is ever changing and evolving. With so many different products that each serve a unique purpose, it is difficult to impose sweeping regulation that is properly applicable to all devices. And once regulation is set for a certain kind of device such as smart refrigerators, it is likely that a new version of technology will be implemented, introducing new potential security risks and requiring regulations to be constantly revised. The third possible option, which involves no regulation, is to have companies label each of their products with a security rating. By disclosing the true level of security on their products, it becomes the responsibility of the consumers to decide whether or not they want to buy a product that is at risk of being hacked. Some argue that this is unjust, and that it is the responsibility of the consumer to remove all risk associated with their product. But consumers buy products that involve risk all the time, such as a car or gun. The safety of these products is publicly reported in laymen’s terms, so any consumer can make their own judgments. There also exists the risk companies will falsely report in order to sell more. But ultimately, these companies currently ignore the need for security for the same reason as consumers do – cost. I am willing to pay more to ensure that all IoT devices are held to the proper security standard. With the proper safety, the IoT can lead to the next wave of groundbreaking technology.

Older Posts »