JSConf EU 2013

Technology is often seen as somehow objective, especially by people who don’t know much about how it’s made. But like everything that involves human decision-making, it’s riddled with biases. In search of profit (or sometimes innocent simplification) we have the choice to for example reduce human friendship, with all their nuances, to a boolean: friendship is approved or it isn’t. I want to tell stories which will make it clear how we shape technologies with our belief and value systems. Among them, a story of a London university which built a computer system to deal with the first round of admission, presumed to be objective and based on logic. It was later discovered to inherit all biases of the people who were doing its job in previous academic years, because that’s what the system was based on. Or another story, of the biggest encyclopaedia ever created, one that removes barriers to entry and truly democratises knowledge. Only it doesn’t quite achieve that despite the ambition, as the participants are largely a self-selected group that lacks involvement of huge swaths of society. How we look at these biases will be crucial in building a better world, one where we acknowledge and address the issues we build into technology in the first place. The decisions we make in designing the tools of tomorrow are necessarily political and I want to leave you examining your own.

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