A Gift of Fire
Third edition
Sara Baase
Chapter 7: Evaluating and
Controlling Technology
Slides prepared by Cyndi Chie and Sarah Frye
What We Will Cover
Information, Knowledge, and Judgment
Computers and Community
The ‘Digital Divide’
Evaluations of the Impact of Computer
• Making Decisions About Technology
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment
Evaluating Information on the Web:
• Expert information or ‘wisdom of the crowd’?
– Daunting amount of information on the web, much
of this information is not correct
– Search engines are replacing librarians, but Web
sites are ranked by popularity, not by expert
– Wisdom of the crowd - ratings by public of website
– If millions participate, the results will be useful
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Evaluating Information on the Web (cont.):
• Wikipedia:
– Written by volunteers, some posts are
biased and not accurate
– Although anyone can write, most people do
– Those that do typically are educated and
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Evaluating Information on the Web (cont.):
• Wisdom of the crowd
– Problems of unreliable information are not new
– The Web magnifies the problems
– Rating systems are easy to manipulate
• Vulnerable viewers
– Less educated individuals
– Children
• Responsibilities of site operators
– Should identify user-supplied content
– Make clear which information has been verified
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Evaluating Information on the Web (cont.):
• Manipulation of images:
– Movies and videos use special effects to add
creativity and enjoyment of entertainment
– People can use technology for deception and
– Ease with which we can modify digital images and
• Should news agencies modify images and videos?
• Faking photos is not a new phenomenon; more
people can do it now because it’s easy
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Writing, Thinking and Deciding:
• New tools have displaced skills that were once
• Abdicating responsibility
– People willing to let computers do their thinking
– Reliance on computer systems over human
judgment may become institutionalized
– Fear of having to defend your own judgment if
something goes wrong
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Computer Models:
• Evaluating Models
– How well do the modelers understand the
underlying science or theory?
– Models necessarily involve assumptions
and simplifications of reality
– How closely do the results or predictions
correspond with the results from physical
experiments or real experience?
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment (cont.)
Computer Models (cont.):
• Why models may not be accurate
– We might not have complete knowledge of the
system we are modeling
– The data describing current conditions or
characteristics may be incomplete of inaccurate
– Computing power may be inadequate for the
complexity of the model
– It is difficult, if not impossible, to numerically
quantify variables that represent human values
and choices
Information, Knowledge,
and Judgment
Discussion Questions
• How do you evaluate the reliability of
information you find on the Web? How do
your evaluation methods compare to the way
you evaluate information from other sources?
• Some computer models are better than
others. What types of models work well?
What types don't? Why?
Computers and Community
• It is human nature to form associations based
on common interests
• Some feared early technologies, such as
telephones, thinking communication would be
• Computers and the Internet were blamed for
the decline in community involvement and
memberships in clubs and organizations
• The Internet provides communities focused
on specialized interests or problems
Computers and Community
• The Internet brings people together from all
over the world
• E-mail and the Internet provide convenient
and cheap ways for families and friends to
stay in contact
• New trends include social-networking sites
such as MySpace and virtual environments
such as Second Life
Computers and Community
Discussion Questions
• How convincing is the argument that
electronic commerce threatens small (“brick
and mortar”) community businesses and thus
the health of small communities?
• Do you think that communicating by text
messaging and via social-networking sites
depersonalizes or dehumanizes your
relationships with friends?
The "Digital Divide"
Trends in Computer Access:
• New technologies only available to the wealthy
• The time it takes for new technology to make its way
into common use is decreasing
• Cost is not the only factor; ease of use plays a role
• Entrepreneurs provide low cost options for people
who cannot otherwise afford something
• Government funds technology in schools
• As technology becomes more prevalent, the issues
shift from the haves and have-nots to level of service
The "Digital Divide"
The Global Divide and the Next Billion Users:
• Approximately one billion people worldwide have
access to the Web; approximately five billion do not
• Non-profit organizations and huge computer
companies are spreading computer access to people
in developing countries
• Bringing new technology to poor countries is not just
a matter of money to buy equipment; PCs and
laptops must work in extreme environments
• Some people actively working to shrink the digital
divide emphasize the need to provide access in ways
appropriate to the local culture
Evaluations of the Impact of
Computer Technology
The Neo-Luddite View of Computers, Technology, and
Human Needs:
• Computers cause massive unemployment
• No real need (We use technologies because they are
there, not because they satisfy real needs)
• Computers cause social inequity
• Benefit big business and the government
• Do little or nothing to solve real problems
• Computers separate humans from nature and
destroy the environment
Evaluations of the Impact of
Computer Technology (cont.)
Accomplishments of Technology:
• Prices of food are down and raw materials
are abundant
• Real buying power is up
• Food supplies and GDP are growing faster
than the population
• Dramatic impact on life expectancy
• Assistive technologies benefit those with
Making Decisions About
Technology (cont.)
The Difficulty of Prediction:
• Each new technology finds new and unexpected
• The history of technology is full of wildly wrong
• Weizenbaum argued against developing speech
recognition technology
– Mistaken expectations of costs and benefits
– Should we decline a technology because of
potential abuse and ignore the benefits?
– New technologies are often expensive, but costs
drop as the technology advances and the demand
Making Decisions About
Technology (cont.)
Intelligent Machines and Super-intelligent
Humans - Or the End of the Human Race?
• Technological Singularity - point at which
artificial intelligence or some combined
human-machine intelligence advances so far
that we cannot comprehend what lies on the
other side
• We cannot prepare for aftermath, but prepare
for more gradual developments
• Select a decision making process most likely
to produce what people want
Making Decisions About
Discussion Questions
• If you could decide what technologies should
be developed, what would you develop?
• Does the prospect of super-intelligent robots
scare you?