November 7, 2019, von: Nikolaus Pöchhacker

Engineering Responsible Infrastructures: a summer school

Infrastructures are political. This is a sentence, which will hardly be contested from scholars in science and technology studies or innovation research. Yet, if this is the case, how can we think of infrastructures in terms of responsibility and democratic values? And how can we open them for contestation and democratic discourse? These were the questions we have been tackling in our session at the summer school on HERSS. Drawing from work on infrastructures in STS (e.g. Bowker & Star, 2000; Edwards, Bowker, & Jackson, 2009) we were exploring two different cases to think about possible openings of structures that otherwise tend to become invisible and durable. The first case raised the question of public value media in a potential European media platform and how we can transport and transform democratic ideals, such as public value, or provision of diverse information. The second case raised the question of responsible AI on an (imagined) European AI Infrastructure.

In both cases questions of centralization/de-centralization and the balance of authority and control has been discussed intensively, yet, more important were mechanisms of raising issues within such an infrastructure. This includes the invitation of different stakeholder but also technical forms of signaling problems, through granting access to projects to these stakeholders, e.g. AI Now or Data & Society Institute. In the end, this requires a radical re-definition of the problems to be solved by engineers. Responsibility in Higher Education in regard of responsible infrastructures therefore does not necessarily mean teaching a fixed set of values or norms, but to foster a way of thinking that engages with and reflects upon the contingency and multiplicity of problem definitions and how they relate to different societal groups. Through such a process orientation, infrastructures can become responsible in a way that treats techno-political settings only as “temporary result of a provisional hegemony” (Mouffe, 1999, p. 755) – and leaves them open for further contestation.

References

Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (2000). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Edwards, P. N., Bowker, G. C., & Jackson, S. J. (2009). Introduction: An agenda for infrastructure studies.

Mouffe, Chantal (1999). Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism? Social Research 66(3), S. 745 – 758

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