Ethics and technology design

This article offers a discussion of the connection between technology and values and, specifically, I take a closer look at ethically sound design. In order to bring the discussion into a concrete context, the theory of Value Sensitive Design (VSD) will be the focus point. To illustrate my argument concerning design ethics, the discussion involves a case study of an augmented window, designed by the VSD Research Lab, which has turned out to be a potentially surveillance-enabling technology. I call attention to a “positivist problem” that has to do with the connection between the design context and the use context, which VSD seems to presuppose, and I argue that it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the two, since the designers’ intentions do not always correspond with the users’ practice; in fact, the relation between design and use is very complex and principally unpredictable. Thus, a design theory must accept that foresight is limited to anticipation rather than prediction. To overcome the positivist problem, I suggest a phenomenological approach to technology inspired by Don Ihde’s concept of multistability. This argument, which is general in nature and thus applies to any theory of design ethics, is intended as a constructive criticism, which can hopefully contribute to the further development of design ethics
Keywords ethics  multistability  surveillance  technology design  value sensitive design
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DOI 10.1007/s10676-006-9129-8
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