Knowledge, Technology & Policy LO18140

Debbie Roth (
Wed, 20 May 1998 06:57:33 -0700

Replying to LO18126 --

>From Debbie Roth, replying to Ed regarding reply to John - LO's 18116 and

I'm also interested in the question of what we mean by 'technology', but
even more in potential biases. My Webster's (1940, so untainted by our
electronic IT) defines technology as "applied science". While I regard
computers as a technology, I would also include a method (with no physical
existence), e.g., the Software Engineering Institute's function point
analysis method for evaluating programming output.

In my writing (PhD dissertation at present) I try to stress IT use, rather
than just its evolution and existence, as if the technology were inert and
only its use generated impact. But I think it is not quite so clear cut.
If Janet Reno has a box on her desk and doesn't use it, that says
something. If India has a nuclear bomb but hasn't used it, that says a
whole lot. One could say that they have used it, not against another
party, but to demonstrate they have the capability - and that that has had
impacts they used it to create (plus some they may not have wished for but
probably conssidered). And I think there can be biases inherent in
technologies due to the background or goals of the designer, for example,
or simply the context, or many more subtler forces. Actual use of a
nuclear bomb does not have many possible impacts in my book which are
positive, except perhaps preventing an even worse outcome. (It depends on
the commentator's perspective, values ...), although the technologies used
to create the bomb may have more constructive applications, even if they
were originally developed in order to create the bomb.

I'm especially interested in these questions as they relate to IT and its
use. Hypothetically - if all computers operated only in English, there
would be a kind of bias inherent in the technology regarding anyone who
couldn't function in that language. Or, if computers required electricity
then those without couldn't use them. I think there may be inherent biases
which are not intended at all, but which do reflect realities and may have
significant impacts.

Well, I think awareness and questioning of these issues is all-important
but that is not to say I am as aware as I would like to be. I appreciate
this opportunity to explore.

Regards, Debbie Roth


Debbie Roth <>

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