Katherine C.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Music 256A / CS476A, Stanford University

Word count: 450

Reading Response to Artful Design Chapter 8: Manifesto + Coda

From this week's reading, I would like to respond to Artful Design Principle 8.5, which states:

Principle 8.5: “Tech is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” (p. 406).

This principle is also known as Kranzberg’s 1st Law of Technology. I believe this is an assertion that technologies have inherent moral values.

For context, the textbook states that technology will “irreversibly shape the course of our future. Technology cannot be neutral because it is created by humans and is to be used by humans… to design is equivalent to taking action, which cannot help but create consequences that shape our lives and our character. It cannot be left to change. We cannot simply build systems and say ‘however people use them is not our problem.’” (p. 406).

I agree with Kranzberg. It is not just about unintended consequences, or about how the effects of technology are hard to predict. The most important thing that I took away from the principle was the notion of technology as a form of human action. When humanness is brought into technology, it becomes morally ambiguous, but not morally neutral. Technology is infused with human values, so it can be both good and evil depending on how we interpret it.

For example, the atomic bomb, as a technology, is most certainly not neutral because it was created by humans and associated with human values. Most people argue that it is bad because it destroyed homes and killed the innocent in a devastating way. Some people, including several atomic bomb survivors, argue that it is good because it ended World War II; without the technology, Japan would not have surrendered and the war would had been prolonged, taking away who knows how many more lives.

The key idea here is that we need to focus on technology not as things, but as a form of human action. I feel like there is a tendency for us to separate technology from the human, which is understandable. Furthermore, there may be confusion due to subtle differences between technology designers, producers, and users – which of these define the moral value of the technology? In the case of the atomic bomb, which of these people are morally responsible: the original designer of the bomb, the factory worker who built the bomb, the policymaker who decided to use the bomb, or the plane operator who actually dropped the bomb?

According to the textbook, the designer seems to hold the most responsibility, because they begin everything associated with the technology, and they are the one taking action to bring the technology into existence. The upshot is: designers should be extra careful in thinking about the moral consequences of their works.