The Built-in Bias of Technology
Steven H. VanderLeest
It is widely, though not universally, accepted in the literature that
technology is non-neutral, i.e., it is partial to certain uses. However,
this understanding is not widespread amongst engineering students, and
the perception of neutrality can have perilous societal consequences.
Some preliminary work has identified pedagogical approaches to instilling
better understanding of non-neutrality in the classroom. This paper continues
that line of thought. Starting with Kranzberg’s assertion that “technology
is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” I explore the cultural
appropriateness of technology as a sign of inherent bias. This leads to
a brief examination of mental models of technology as an approach to understanding
how the unintended consequences of a technology may not be as haphazard
as first appears. With these concepts as background, I analyze the means
by which bias is built into each stage of the design process. Carl Mitcham
has suggested that a fruitful area of further investigation would be to
examine how this bias can be identified in the structures of the technological
products themselves. I conclude with some initial ideas on approaches
to such an analysis, e.g., using reverse engineering analysis to translate
form back to intended function.
Steven H. VanderLeest, “The Built-in Bias of Technology,” Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, June, 2004.
Back to Steve VanderLeest Publications
Back to Steve VanderLeest homepage