Technology Dialectics

Technology Dialectics:
Constructing Provably Appropriate Technology

by Latanya Sweeney

How can computer scientists and engineers make sure the technology they create gets used?

How can computer scientists and engineers avoid grave conflicts with users, society or organizations that can bar approval of their technology?

Technology Dialectics is a new paradigm in which researchers and engineers evaluate and understand the requirements and implications of the technology they seek to construct throughout the design process. The goal is to identify and resolve operational conflicts early in the design process in order to ensure acceptance and adoption of the end result. To accomplish this, researchers and engineers enhance their problem statements to include constraints imposed by stakeholder interests. Technical solutions to enhanced problems resolve potential clashes before they become barriers to adoption.

Identifying and characterizing barriers often requires using methods from different disciplines. Technology Dialectics provides a paradigm for conducting inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary research and development, as appropriate. Scientific research methods (naturalistic observation, survey, interviews and experimentation) describe existing phenomenon, whereas traditional computer science research involves methods for constructing new phenomenon (that accomplish a given task efficiently).

Technology Dialectics blends different research traditions into a unified approach for developing technology such that the resulting technology is “provably appropriate” for a given personal, societal, organizational, and/or legal context. The term “provably appropriate” is a high standard. A researcher expresses claims in disciplinary terms. “Proof” relies on existing disciplinary methods of interpretation and validation.

The approach of Technology Dialectics stems from lessons learned in constructing technology that address real-world privacy problems. Examples come from that venue, as well as from traditional and emerging areas --including e-business, technology policy, rehabilitation technology, technology for the aging, and national security. Topics addressed within the Technology Dialectics paradigm include formulating problem statements, modeling real-world constraints, assessing risks, including end-user participation, determining validity, evaluating generalizability, generating guarantees, and providing provably appropriate solutions.

Related Links

Fall 2006 Data Privacy Lab