Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy & Technology

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Bachelor of Science in Political Science, Security, and Technology (BS PSST)

Political science and international relations have at their heart investigations of governance and power.  The field traditionally focuses on state-focused power and governance, an important and well-established line of inquiry that addresses concepts like democracies vs. autocracies, the balance of power, the military balance, and nuclear deterrence. 

But other types of power are also important. These include individual power (rights, privacy, representation, freedom of expression), nonstate group power (nongovernmental organizations, the leverage of civil war factions, insurgencies and terrorist groups,), economic power (the strength of commercial entities, processes of innovation), narrative power (the power to lead, inspire, attract alliances), normative power (ethics, morality, the just war tradition, human rights, domestic and international law), and geopolitical power (e.g., US-China, Russia/NATO/Ukraine, China-India, international organizations like the UN, WTO, or regional rivalries in Antarctica, Africa, Asia, Latin America and even Space).  For the first time in centuries, all of these varieties of power are being rapidly affected, even dramatically altered, by new technologies.

Technology has always played a role in human society, but that role has never had the scale, scope, and speed that it has now.  For example, the role of the telegraph, the railroad, and the invention of high explosives dramatically affected state power in nineteenth century Europe. These general-purpose technologies spread throughout the world by the end of the century, hastening the arrival of the First and Second world wars.  

By contrast, global processes of technological innovation and diffusion are happening today in months or years rather than centuries.  We must understand today’s rapid processes if we are to reduce risks, enhance benefits, promote global stability, and protect the future of humanity. That is the purpose of this major.

Political Science, Security, and Technology is available as a primary major, additional major, and minor.*

Degree Rationale

The major in Political Science, Security, and Technology takes a social science (not technical) approach to studying emerging technologies that affect war and peace. There is no better place to study security and technology than Carnegie Mellon University, a thought leader in global and national security issues, policies, and strategies related to digital technologies.  CMU students are uniquely poised to influence the future, with cutting-edge research happening across campus in all the relevant technological areas--e.g., machine learning, cybersecurity, robotics, big data, neuroscience, human-computer interaction, human enhancement, synthetic biology, and various types of artificial intelligence.  

In this course of study, Carnegie Mellon undergraduates learn how to analyze the political, economic, social, and ethical dimensions of new technologies, equipping themselves to contribute to vital political debates and influence technological developments in the public interest.

The lesson of the past few years is that the pace of technological change will only increase, and its impact on the future of humanity will also grow.  In particular, the geopolitical implications of various forms of artificial intelligence are well along, including their impacts on work, health, environmental protection, and especially conflict. The ongoing conflicts in both Ukraine and Israel reflect the role of autonomous weapons, loitering munitions, accessible armed drones, and open-source intelligence driven by machine learning tools.

Perhaps even more fundamental in its impact, synthetic biology will alter every aspect of human existence. Today it is easy to read (DNA sequencing), write (DNA synthesizing), alter (gene editing) and share (via the internet) genetic code.  This makes synthetic biology as revolutionary as the printing press was in the 15th century—both for good (curing diseases like cancer) or ill (creating new dangerous pathogens).  

The full effects of these technologies are some years away, but our students must be equipped to shape and adapt to them. Most serious among them will be the potential to affect war and peace, what it means to be human, economic prosperity, and future global stability.

Students in this major read, employ, and create evidence-based research that addresses and shapes the future of technology in national and international security.  In choosing their electives, students have the opportunity to emphasize either the international or domestic American aspects of this topic. Challenges posed by digital technologies affect people of all political parties, in the United States and throughout the world, especially in democracies. 

Methodological Training

Our goal is to educate students who not only know about the risks and benefits of new technologies in historical context, but can also use their knowledge to frame broad questions and use the appropriate political science methods to address them.

We teach a range of methodologies to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century, both within the United States and abroad. These include introductions not only to traditional political science approaches (such as comparative case studies, archival analysis, database construction, and regression analysis), but also to newer tools such as visual geospatial mapping, sensor-driven machine learning, and the employment of large language models.  

Our budding political scientists may not build the latter tools (as they do in other parts of Carnegie Mellon University); but they’ll know how to use them effectively to predict problems, identify potential backlash, and answer important questions. They’ll design research projects that address political, ethical, and strategic questions related to security and technology, in everything from voting in democratic elections to robotic targeting during warfare, in both the United States and abroad.

Curriculum (153 units)

The major can be pursued as a primary major or additional major.  The requirements are the same for both. A maximum of four courses may double count between the PSST major and any other majors or minor. Unlimited double counting is permitted with General Education requirements. 

Political Science Core (complete all): 36 Units
84-104 Decision Processes in American Political Institutions 9
84-226 International Relations 9
84-250 Writing for Political Science and Policy 9
84-275 Comparative Politics 9
Security and Technology Core: 45 Units

Students must complete: 


An Introduction to Technology and War
(formerly 84-374 Technology, Weapons, and International Conflict)


Students must complete 36 units from the following list of courses:

84-349 Digital Diplomacy: Cybersecurity Challenges and Global Governance 9
84-350 A Strategist's Introduction to Artificial Intelligence 9
84-363 Click. Hack. Rule: Understanding the Power & Peril of Cyber Conflict 9
84-370 Nuclear Security & Arms Control 9
84-372 Space and National Security 9
84-373 Emerging Technologies and International Law  9
84-381 International Governance of Artificial Intelligence 9
84-383 Cyber Policy as National Policy 6
84-387 Remote Systems and the Cyber Domain in Conflict 9
84-388 Concepts of War and Cyber War 6
84-390 Social Media, Technology, and Conflict 9
84-405 The Future of Warfare 9
Methodology Core (complete all): 18 Units
84-266 Research Design for Political Science 9
36-202 Methods of Statistics and Data Science 9
Electives: 54 Units

Students must complete 54 units (usually six courses) in total. At least four courses (36 units) must be taken from the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy and Technology (84-xxx). Most courses listed below are 9-unit courses, but some are fewer. When students choose courses offered for fewer than 9 units, they must remember that a minimum of 54 units is still required and thus plan to take one or more additional courses to fill out that minimum number. In other words, the key requirement is the number of units (54), not the number of courses. Courses taken in the Security and Technology core above and beyond the required number of units for the core may count as electives for the major. 

Students are strongly encouraged to participate in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP) and courses taken through the program may count toward electives for the major. 

International Security

84-200 Security War Game Simulation
84-304 In the News: Analysis of Current National Security Priorities
84-312 Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa
84-313 International Organizations and Law
84-322 Nonviolent Conflict and Revolution
84-323 War and Peace in the Contemporary Middle East
84-325 Contemporary American Foreign Policy
84-329 Asian Strategies
84-336 Implementing Public Policy: From Good Idea To Reality*
84-339 Seminar in Public Policy Research*
84-360 CMU/WSP Internship Seminar*
84-362 Diplomacy and Statecraft
84-365 The Politics of Fake News and Misinformation
84-369 Decision Science for International Relations
84-386 The Privatization of Force
84-389 Terrorism and Insurgency
84-440 Collaborative Research in Political Science

Domestic American Politics

84-120 Introduction to US Constitutional Law
84-252 Briefing in the Policy World
84-280 Popcorn and Politics: American Foreign Policy at the Movies
84-309 American Political Divides and Great Debates
84-317 Defense PPBE in the Age of Emerging Technologies
84-319 Civil-Military Relations
84-324 The Future of Democracy
84-325 Contemporary American Foreign Policy
84-328 Military Strategy and Doctrine
84-332 Contemporary US Constitutional Law Issues*
84-336 Implementing Public Policy: From Good Idea To Reality*
84-338 Analysis of US Presidential Powers*
84-339 Seminar in Public Policy Research*
84-352 Representation and Voting Rights
84-355 Democracy's Data: Analytics and Insights into American Elections
84-360 CMU/WSP Internship Seminar*
84-365 The Politics of Fake News and Misinformation
84-367 The Politics of Antisemitism
84-380 US Grand Strategy
84-393 Legislative Decision Making: US Congress
84-402 Judicial Politics and Behavior

*Denotes courses taught in Washington, DC, through the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP).

Additional Electives in Security and Technology

17-200 Ethics and Policy Issues in Computing
17-303 Cryptocurrencies, Blockchains and Applications
17-331 Information Security, Privacy, and Policy
17-333 Privacy Policy, Law, and Technology
17-334 Usable Privacy and Security
19-403 Policies of Wireless Systems
70-334 Ethics of Emerging Technologies
79-234 Technology and Society
79-301 History of Surveillance: From the Plantation to Data Capitalism
79-302 Killer Robots? The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Drones and A.I. in War
79-370 Technology in the United States
80-249 AI, Society, and Humanity
95-444 Cybersecurity Policy and Governance