Emerging need for “values in design”

I’ve returned from the CEPE and SPT conferences in The Netherlands motivated to increase my advocacy for the “values in design” perspective for understanding the social, political and ethical implications of technology.

At CEPE, the theme was “Ethics of New Information Technology,” focusing on the ethical, political and social implications of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, ambient intelligence, biotechnology, etc. Many excellent papers were presented, along with an important keynote by James Moor on “Why We Need Better Ethics for Emerging Technologies.” [I’ll try to post a copy of his remarks here, because, indeed, we all need to be concerned with social implications of emerging technologies.]

SPT’s focus on “Technology and Designing” was equally engaging, featuring excellent talks by Philip Brey, Don Ihde, and an excellent keynote by Paul Thompson.

Bringing these two conferences together — the ethics of new information technology & the philosophy of technological design — is my own “intellectual home,”Values in Design. From our website:

This website is for researchers, practitioners, and public interest advocates who understand that information and communications technologies are a crucial medium for asserting social, political, and moral values such as freedom, autonomy, justice, privacy, and democracy.

How do we ensure a place for values, alongside technical standards such as speed, efficiency, and reliability, as criteria by which we judge quality and acceptability of computer and information systems and new media? How do values such as privacy, autonomy, democracy, and social justice become integral to conception, design, and development, not merely retrofitted after completion?

Crucial steps:
* Learning from past cases how the design of devices and systems portend or have led to particular social and political consequences.
* Applying knowledge of systematic connections between design and values (including complex tradeoffs) to new systems under construction.
* Studying the process of technical production to identify crucial methodologies, as well as junctures and opportunities for effective interventions.

* Showcase creative contributions of academics and practitioners.
* Facilitate exchange of ideas and experience through practice and education.
* Help build and solidify community.

Virtually all of my recent intellectual efforts — be it vehicle safety communication technologies, search engines, encyclopedias, media ecology, etc — has centered on understanding the value implications of our information and communication technologies.

To help foster the “next generation” of values in design scholars, Helen Nissenbaum and Geof Bowker are holding a Values in Computer and Information System Design workshop over the next few weeks, which I’ll be attending with 25 other graduate students.

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