[Air-L] What can/should computers do?

L. Wynholds wynholds at ucla.edu
Tue Jan 22 15:36:06 PST 2013


There are several parts of your question which could use
clarification.  Perhaps there are assumptions in the body of
literature under which you are operating, but since you are looking to
expand your inquiry beyond it, clarification would still be helpful.

First, from my vantage point, there is no question of applied social
science research on the perception of computers without a question of
intended use, which is why I make a reference below to the book on the
'right tools' for the job.

Second, without being able to disentangle the question of what the job
for the tool is, the question of what the computer is becomes
insurmountable.  In other words, when you ask about people's
perception of computers, does that include aspects of pervasive
computing, such as mobile devices?  Does it include cloud computing?
Does it include facebook? Computers have become so ubiquitous that I
suspect much of it is utterly invisible to most people.

This is something of an epistemological question, but I would
recommend looking into some of the literature on the contingent nature
of matching work and tools.  My favorite on this is older, but has
been helpful to us in studying data practices in the sciences:

Clarke, A., & Fujimura, J. H. Eds (1992). The Right tools for the job
: at work in twentieth-century life sciences. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press.

You might also consider looking at folks like Susan Leigh Star, or
Lucy Suchman working with scientists to design computer systems:

Susan Leigh Star. 1999. “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” American
Behavioral Scientist, 43: 377-391.
Suchman, L. A. (1987). Plans and situated actions: the problem of
human-machine communication. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University


On Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:04 AM, Eric P. S. Baumer <ericpsb at cornell.edu> wrote:
> Hello air-l-er's,
> I'm looking for literature reporting on empirical investigations of perceptions about both what computers can do and what computers should do.
> I'm familiar with a number of philosophical pieces considering potential abilities and/or limits of computers (Turing, Minsky, Dreyfus, Weizenbaum, etc.). However, most of those are philosophical or abstract arguments made by philosophers of or researchers in artificial intelligence. I've not been able to find any work that examines lay or non-expert beliefs about either what computational systems are (not) capable of or what are (in)appropriate tasks for computational systems to perform.
> To sum up, here's what I'm looking for:
> - perceptions of computers' (suit)abilities
> - empirical research (not philosophical arguments)
> - emphasis on lay/non-expert perceptions (not researchers in AI)
> - bonus points if related to natural language processing
> - bonus points if related to political coverage, opinions, and/or bias
> Thanks in advance,
> ~Eric
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