Technology is Not Values Neutral: Ending the Reign of Nihilistic Design
We fail to take tech seriously when we do not grasp its full impact on humans | Jun 26, 2022 | 25 Min Read
The noun was coined by the American ecological psychologist James J. Gibson. It was initially used in the study of animal-environment interaction and has also been used in the study of human-technology interaction. An affordance is an available use or purpose of a thing or an entity. For example, a couch affords being sat on, a microwave button affords being pressed, and a social media platform has an affordance of letting users share with each other.
Agent provocateur translates to “inciting incident” in French. It is used to reference individuals who attempt to persuade another individual or group to partake in a crime or rash behavior or to implicate them in such acts. This is done to defame, delegitimize, or criminalize the target. For example, starting a conflict at a peaceful protest or attempting to implicate a political figure in a crime.
Ideological polarization is generated as a side-effect of content recommendation algorithms optimizing for user engagement and advertising revenues. These algorithms will upregulate content that reinforces existing views and filters out countervailing information because this has been proven to drive time on-site. The result is an increasingly polarized perspective founded on a biased information landscape.
To “cherry pick” when making an argument is to selectively present evidence that supports one’s position or desired outcome, while ignoring or omitting any contradicting evidence.
The ethical behavior exhibited by individuals in service of bettering their communities and their state, sometimes foregoing personal gain for the pursuit of a greater good for all. In contrast to other sets of moral virtues, civic virtue refers specifically to standards of behavior in the context of citizens participating in governance or civil society. What constitutes civic virtue has evolved over time and may differ across political philosophies. For example, in modern-day democracies, civic virtue includes values such as guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote, and freedom of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A shared understanding of civic virtue among the populace is integral to the stability of a just political system, and waning civic virtue may result in disengagement from collective responsibilities, noncompliance with the rule of law, a breakdown in trust between individuals and the state, and degradation of the intergenerational process of passing on civic virtues.
Closed societies restrict the free exchange of information and public discourse, as well as impose top down decisions on their populus. Unlike the open communications and dissenting views that characterize open societies, closed societies promote opaque governance and prevent public opposition that might be found in free and open discourse.
A general term for collective resources in which every participant of the collective has an equal interest. Prominent examples are air, nature, culture and the quality of our shared sensemaking basis or information commons.
A general term for collective resources in which every participant of the collective has an equal interest. Prominent examples are air, nature, culture, and the quality of our shared sensemaking basis or information commons.
The cognitive bias of 1) exclusively seeking or recalling evidence in support of one's current beliefs or values, 2) interpreting ambiguous information in favor of one’s beliefs or values, and 3) ignoring any contrary information. This bias is especially strong when the issues in question are particularly important to one's identity.
In science and history, consilience is the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” on strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own.
While “The Enlightenment” was a specific instantiation of cultural enlightenment in 18th-century Europe, cultural enlightenment is a more general process that has occurred multiple times in history, in many different cultures. When a culture goes through a period of increasing reflectivity on itself it is undergoing cultural enlightenment. This period of reflectivity brings about the awareness required for a culture to reimagine its institutions from a new perspective. Similarly, “The Renaissance” refers to a specific period in Europe while the process of a cultural renaissance has occurred elsewhere. A cultural renaissance is more general than (and may precede) an enlightenment, as it describes a period of renewed interest in a particular topic.
A deep fake is a digitally-altered (via AI) recording of a person for the purpose of political propaganda, sexual objectification, defamation, or parody. They are progressively becoming more indistinguishable from reality to an untrained eye.
Empiricism is a philosophical theory that states that knowledge is derived from sensory experiences and relies heavily on scientific evidence to arrive at a body of truth. English philosopher John Locke proposed that rather than being born with innate ideas or principles, man’s life begins as a “blank slate” and only through his senses is he able to develop his mind and understand the world.
It is both the public spaces (e.g., town hall, Twitter) and private spaces where people come together to pursue a mutual understanding of issues critical to their society, and the collection of norms, systems, and institutions underpinning this society-wide process of learning. The epistemic commons is a public resource; these spaces and norms are available to all of us, shaped by all of us, and in turn, also influence the way in which all of us engage in learning with each other. For informed and consensual decision-making, open societies and democratic governance depend upon an epistemic commons in which groups and individuals can collectively reflect and communicate in ways that promote mutual learning.
Inadvertent emotionally or politically -motivated closed-mindedness, manifesting as certainty or overconfidence when dealing with complex indeterminate problems. Epistemic hubris can appear in many forms. For example, it is often demonstrated in the convictions of individuals influenced by highly politicized groups, it shows up in corporate or bureaucratic contexts that err towards certainty through information compression requirements, and it appears in media, where polarized rhetoric is incentivized due to its attention-grabbing effects. Note: for some kinds of problems it may be appropriate or even imperative to have a degree of confidence in one's knowledge—this is not epistemic hubris.
An ethos of learning that involves a healthy balance between confidence and openness to new ideas. It is neither hubristic, meaning overly confident or arrogant, nor nihilistic, meaning believing that nothing can be known for certain. Instead, it is a subtle orientation that seeks new learning, recognizes the limitations of one's own knowledge, and avoids absolutisms or fundamentalisms—which are rigid and unyielding beliefs that refuse to consider alternative viewpoints. Those that demonstrate epistemic humility will embrace truths where these are possible to attain but are generally inclined to continuously upgrade their beliefs with new information.
This form of nihilism is a diffuse and usually subconscious feeling that it is impossible to really know anything, because, for example, “the science is too complex” or “there is fake news everywhere.” Without a shared ability to make sense of the world as a means to inform our choices, we are left with only the game of power. Claims of “truth” are seen as unwarranted or intentional manipulations, as weaponized or not earnestly believed in.
Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowing and the nature of knowledge. It deals with questions such as “how does one know?” and “what is knowing, known, and knowledge?”. Epistemology is considered one of the four main branches of philosophy, along with ethics, logic, and metaphysics.
Derived from a Greek word meaning custom, habit, or character; The set of ideals or customs which lay the foundations around which a group of people coheres. This includes the set of values upon which a culture derives its ethical principles.
The ability of an individual or group to shape the perception of an issue or topic by setting the narrative and determining the context for the debate. A “frame” is the way in which an issue is presented or “framed”, including the language, images, assumptions, and perspectives used to describe it. Controlling the frame can give immense social and political power to the actor who uses it because the narratives created or distorted by frame control are often covertly beneficial to the specific interests of the individual or group that has established the frame. As an example, politicians advocating for tax cuts or pro-business policies may use the phrase "job creators" when referring to wealthy corporations in order to suggest their focus is on improving livelihoods, potentially influencing public perception in favor of the politician's interests.
Discourse oriented towards mutual understanding and coordinated action, with the result of increasing the faith that participants have in the value of communicating. The goal of good faith communication is not to reach a consensus, but to make it possible for all parties to change positions, learn, and continue productive, ongoing interaction.
Processes that occupy vast expanses of both time and space, defying the more traditional sense of an "object" as a thing that can be singled out. The concept, introduced by Timothy Morton, invites us to conceive of processes that are difficult to measure, always around us, globally distributed and only observed in pieces. Examples include climate change, ocean pollution, the Internet, and global nuclear armaments and related risks.
Information warfare is a primary aspect of fourth- and fifth-generation warfare. It can be thought of as war with bits and memes instead of guns and bombs. Examples of information warfare include psychological operations like disinformation, propaganda, or manufactured media, or non-kinetic interference in an enemy's communication capacity or quality.
Refers to the foundational process of education which underlies and enables societal and cultural cohesion across generations by passing down values, capacities, knowledge, and personality types.
The phenomenon of having your attention captured by emotionally triggering stimuli. These stimuli strategically target the brain center that we share with other mammals that is responsible for emotional processing and arousal—the limbic system. This strategy of activating the limbic system is deliberately exploited by online algorithmic content recommendations to stimulate increased user engagement. Two effective stimuli for achieving this effect are those that can induce disgust or rage, as these sentiments naturally produce highly salient responses in people.
An online advertising strategy in which companies create personal profiles about individual users from vast quantities of trace data left behind from their online activity. According to these psychometric profiles, companies display content that matches each user's specific interests at moments when they are most likely to be impacted by it. While traditional advertising appeals to its audience's demographics, microtargeting curates advertising for individuals and becomes increasingly personalized by analyzing new data.
False or misleading information, irrespective of the intent to mislead. Within the category of misinformation, disinformation is a term used to refer to misinformation with intent. In news media, the public generally expects a higher standard for journalistic integrity and editorial safeguards against misinformation; in this context, misinformation is often referred to as “fake news”.
A prevailing school of economic thought that emphasizes the government's role in controlling the supply of money circulating in an economy as the primary determinant of economic growth. This involves central banks using various methods of increasing or decreasing the money supply of their currency (e.g., altering interest rates).
A form of rivalry between nation-states or conflicting groups, by which tactical aims are realized through means other than direct physical violence. Examples include election meddling, blackmailing politicians, or information warfare.
Open societies promote the free exchange of information and public discourse, as well as democratic governance based on the participation of the people in shared choices about their social futures. Unlike the tight control over communications and suppression of dissenting views that characterize closed societies, open societies promote transparent governance and embrace good-faith public scrutiny.
The modern use of the term 'paradigm' was introduced by the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn in his work "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Kuhn's idea is that a paradigm is the set of concepts and practices that define a scientific discipline at any particular period of time. A good example of a paradigm is behaviorism – a paradigm under which studying externally observable behavior was viewed as the only scientifically legitimate form of psychology. Kuhn also argued that science progresses by the way of "paradigm shifts," when a leading paradigm transforms into another through advances in understanding and methodology; for example, when the leading paradigm in psychology transformed from behaviorism to cognitivism, which looked at the human mind from an information processing perspective.
The theory and practice of teaching and learning, and how this process influences, and is influenced by, the social, political, and psychological development of learners.
The ability of an individual or institutional entity to deny knowing about unethical or illegal activities because there is no evidence to the contrary or no such information has been provided.
First coined by philosopher Jürgen Habermas, the term refers to the collective common spaces where people come together to publicly articulate matters of mutual interest for members of society. By extension, the related theory suggests that impartial, representative governance relies on the capacity of the public sphere to facilitate healthy debate.
The word itself is French for rebirth, and this meaning is maintained across its many purposes. The term is commonly used with reference to the European Renaissance, a period of European cultural, artistic, political, and economic renewal following the middle ages. The term can refer to other periods of great social change, such as the Bengal Renaissance (beginning in late 18th century India).
A term proposed by sociologists to characterize emergent properties of social systems after the Second World War. Risk societies are increasingly preoccupied with securing the future against widespread and unpredictable risks. Grappling with these risks differentiate risk societies from modern societies, given these risks are the byproduct of modernity’s scientific, industrial, and economic advances. This preoccupation with risk is stimulating a feedback loop and a series of changes in political, cultural, and technological aspects of society.
Sensationalism is a tactic often used in mass media and journalism in which news stories are explicitly chosen and worded to excite the greatest number of readers or viewers, typically at the expense of accuracy. This may be achieved by exaggeration, omission of facts and information, and/or deliberate obstruction of the truth to spark controversy.
A process by which people interpret information and experiences, and structure their understanding of a given domain of knowledge. It is the basis of decision-making: our interpretation of events will inform the rationale for what we do next. As we make sense of the world and accordingly act within it, we also gather feedback that allows us to improve our sensemaking and our capacity to learn. Sensemaking can occur at an individual level through interaction with one’s environment, collectively among groups engaged in discussion, or through socially-distributed reasoning in public discourse.
A theory stating that individuals are willing to sacrifice some of their freedom and agree to state authority under certain legal rules, in exchange for the protection of their remaining rights, provided the rest of society adheres to the same rules of engagement. This model of political philosophy originated during the Age of Enlightenment from theorists including, but not limited to John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was revived in the 20th century by John Rawls and is used as the basis for modern democratic theory.
Autopoiesis from the Greek αὐτo- (auto-) 'self', and ποίησις (poiesis) 'creation, production'—is a term coined in biology that refers to a system’s capability for reproducing and maintaining itself by metabolizing energy to create its own parts, and eventually new emergent components. All living systems are autopoietic. Societal Autopoiesis is an extension of the biological term, making reference to the process by which a society maintains its capacity to perpetuate and adapt while experiencing relative continuity of shared identity.
A fake online persona, crafted to manipulate public opinion without implicating the account creator—the puppeteer. These fabricated identities can be wielded by anyone, from independent citizens to political organizations and information warfare operatives, with the aim of advancing their chosen agenda. Sock puppet personas can embody any identity their puppeteers want, and a single individual can create and operate numerous accounts. Combined with computational technology such as AI-generated text or automation scripts, propagandists can mimic multiple seemingly legitimate voices to create the illusion of organic popular trends within the public discourse.
Presenting the argument of disagreeable others in their weakest forms, and after dismissing those, claiming to have discredited their position as a whole.
A worldview that holds technology, specifically developed by private corporations, as the primary driver of civilizational progress. For evidence of its success, adherents point to the consistent global progress in reducing metrics like child mortality and poverty while capitalism has been the dominant economic paradigm. However, the market incentives driving this progress have also resulted in new, sometimes greater, societal problems as externalities.
Used as part of propaganda or advertising campaigns, these are brief, highly-reductive, and definitive-sounding phrases that stop further questioning of ideas. Often used in contexts in which social approval requires unreflective use of the cliché, which can result in confusion at the individual and collective level. Examples include all advertising jingles and catchphrases, and certain political slogans.
A proposition or a state of affairs is impossible to be verified, or proven to be true. A further distinction is that a state of affairs can be unverifiable at this time, for example, due to constraints in our technical capacity, or a state of affairs can be unverifiable in principle, which means that there is no possible way to verify the claim.
Creating the image of an anti-hero who epitomizes the worst of the disagreeable group, and contrasts with the best qualities of one's own, then characterizing all members of the other group as if they were identical to that image.