scientists never tire telling us that the fruits of their labors are ‘neutral’

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence.

this is the closest i’ve read to a qualification similar to what we developed last class. or, at least, i’m tempted to say that our qualifications apply.

the first qualification – “a chance to utilise and develop his faculties” – reminds me of englebart and licklader. he continues,

there are therefore two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.

i’m wondering which of these, if not both, modern human-computer interaction has achieved?

2 thoughts on “scientists never tire telling us that the fruits of their labors are ‘neutral’

  1. I also attempted to apply Buddhist economics to modern human-computer interaction. One question I asked myself:

    In the eyes of a Buddhist Economist (if such exists), would the laptop be a “tool” or “machine”? What about the phone?

    Surely, I have autonomy over my laptop and mobile phone. I can throw them away if I wanted to.

    But as a thought experiment…….

    my iPhone whines in beeps and vibrations, and I swiftly respond to take care of it. My professional worth is dictated by what gets done on a laptop. My social life is satisfied by likes and notifications. In this very nihilistic light, perhaps I am the slave to these machines.

  2. With respect to the tools v. machines debate and its application in modern HCI, can we perhaps find some inspiration in the domain of software engineering? I’m reminded particularly of the “software tools” movement (see Kernighan and Plauger’s classic book), which states that good software is software that does one thing really really well. Can this be generalized from software to any technological tool?

    I think you are on to something when you were reminded of Englebart and Licklider, because another idea related to what they were saying is this: “tools” tend to augment human physical or mental capacity, i.e. allow us to do things that were not possible due to the limits of our bodies or minds. For example, a lever or pulley augments our strength or a pencil and paper augment our memory by allowing us to write things down. Conversely, “machines” are about automation rather than augmentation; they allow us to do the same thing we were capable of doing before only faster: the only thing they improve is the time it takes us to do things. But during the time saved by having the automatic machine do our work faster for us, we end up doing other things, and thus while the world gets faster, it does not get any better.

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