Articles. Research

The paper deals with the quandary of the neutrality and transparency of technologies. First, I show how this problem is connected with the image of the opening of ‘black boxes’ that is pivotal to much of science and technology studies. Second, methodological and socio-political dimensions of the ‘black box’ metaphor are discussed. Third, I analyze three typical solutions to the problem of the neutrality of technologies outside and inside constructivist technology studies. It is demonstratedthat despite their apparent differences, these solutions are similar in their logic of conceptualizing technology as a neutral intermediary. Forth, I look for an alternative to this logic in the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour. Here technologies are conceived in terms of an eventful association of heterogeneous entities irreducible to its conditions of possibility. The construction of technologies is understood as mediation, or as a ‘making-do’ process where creators are surprised by their creations and vice versa. In Latour’s actor-network, technologies are interpreted as opaque and non-neutral entities. Finally, I turn to some object-lessons from smart technologies powered by neural networks to demonstrate that these are empirical vindications of Latour’s conception of technical mediation. Particular attention is paid to the opacity and (non)interpretability of machine learning algorithms.

Keywords: Actor-Network Theory, value neutrality of technologies, blackboxes, neural networks, machine learning, self-driving cars, science & technology studies (STS)