This is the text version of remarks given by the author on June 26, 2016, at a panel on the Moral Economy of Tech at the SASE conference in Berkeley to an audience of social scientists. The other panel participants were Kieran Healy, Stuart Russell and AnnaLee Saxenian. This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog, Idle Words.
I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.
As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.
The feeling of competence, control, and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.
“The real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling.”
But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior trainin... Read more