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

Eric P. S. Baumer ericpsb at cornell.edu
Thu Jan 24 08:46:46 PST 2013

Thanks all for the suggestions. I was trying to cast a wide net, so I didn't 
provide much detail. Let me see if giving a bit more context helps.

I have interview data from a field study on a novel tool that analyzes and 
visualizes patterns of language in political content (news coverage and blogs). 
There's a portion of the data where study participants speculated about 
abilities the tool might have or how they might like to use it, e.g., showing 
whether the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal was more biased and in 
what direction. I'm trying to find some previous research in which to ground the 
analysis of these data.

Hopefully this addresses some of the questions about, e.g., what constitutes 
"computers" and the intended use.

Thanks again,

On 1/22/13 6:36 PM, L. Wynholds wrote:
> Hi,
> 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
> Press.
> -l
> 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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