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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Code and Bias

Each type of technology is characterized by a particular configuration of primary and secondary instrumentalizations. These configurations often prevail for a very long time. I call social principles that are successfully and durably inscribed in technological designs “technical codes.” This terminology does not suggest, as might Marcuse’s notion of “technological rationality,” that reason in itself is the object of critique. Technical codes operate at several levels of generality. The most general codes lay down such principles as the secular tendency to deskill labor through technical advance. Specific codes determine the meaning of particular devices.

In every case, a technical code describes the congruence of a social demand and a technical specification. A process of translation links the two in the course of the evolution of technical objects. To continue with the automotive example, a demand for greater attention to safety is translated into seatbelts and airbags; operationally speaking, this is what safety means. Thus technology and values are not alien realms, as are facts to values in the treatises of philosophers. Rather, they communicate constantly through the realization of values in design and the impact of design on values. This fluidity of the technical, highlighted in Bruno Latour’s concept of delegation, explains why the vaunted trade-off of efficiency and ideology, dear to conservative economists, is largely mythical.

The two instrumentalizations ...

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