Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 63–72 | Cite as

Ethics and technology design

  • Anders Albrechtslund


This article offers a discussion of the connection between technology and values and, specifically, I take a closer look at ethically sound design. In order to bring the discussion into a concrete context, the theory of Value Sensitive Design (VSD) will be the focus point. To illustrate my argument concerning design ethics, the discussion involves a case study of an augmented window, designed by the VSD Research Lab, which has turned out to be a potentially surveillance-enabling technology. I call attention to a “positivist problem” that has to do with the connection between the design context and the use context, which VSD seems to presuppose, and I argue that it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the two, since the designers’ intentions do not always correspond with the users’ practice; in fact, the relation between design and use is very complex and principally unpredictable. Thus, a design theory must accept that foresight is limited to anticipation rather than prediction. To overcome the positivist problem, I suggest a phenomenological approach to technology inspired by Don Ihde’s concept of multistability. This argument, which is general in nature and thus applies to any theory of design ethics, is intended as a constructive criticism, which can hopefully contribute to the further development of design ethics.


ethics multistability surveillance technology design value sensitive design 


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I am grateful to Professor Peter ØhrstrØm (Aalborg University, Denmark) for his valuable guidance and also to many other colleagues who have generously contributed to the development of this article with excellent comments and suggestions, including Helen Nissenbaum and Michael Zimmer at New York University, Peter-Paul Verbeek at University of Twente, The Netherlands, Thomas Ryberg at Aalborg University, and Finn Olesen at Aarhus University, Denmark. Finally, I have been helped in the work process by having the opportunity to present the arguments of this article at meetings and conferences sponsored by the Aalborg University’s HCI Research School, New York University’s Department of Culture & Communication, and the International Association for Computing and Philosophy (E-CAP).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and PsychologyAalborg UniversityAalborg EastDenmark

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