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Epistemic Debt: A Concept and Measure of Technical Ignorance in Smart Manufacturing

Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC,volume 959)


This paper introduces the notion of epistemic debt as an analytical tool for understanding and managing the effects of technical ignorance in smart manufacturing. Drawing on the concepts of technical and social debt from software engineering, the metaphor of epistemic debt refers to the implied long-term costs of rework (e.g., redesign, replacement, reconfiguration or systems and/or organizational structures) caused by a lack of understanding and/or means of knowing the internals of complex software-based manufacturing systems essential to the value chain and core business of an organization. After defining the concept, we identify three of its sources and propose strategies for coping with epistemic debt in manufacturing.


  • Epistemic opacity
  • Generative entrenchment
  • CPPS
  • Secrecy
  • Collaborative robots
  • Machine learning

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Fig. 2.


  1. 1.

    Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer [3].

  2. 2.

    Social debt is analogous to technical debt in many ways: it represents the state of software development organizations as the result of “accumulated” decisions. In the case of social debt, decisions are about people and their interactions [4].


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This research was supported by the by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency through the HCCPPAS grant and the “Trust in Robots” Doctoral College of the TU Wien.

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Correspondence to Christina Schmidbauer .

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Ionescu, T.B., Schlund, S., Schmidbauer, C. (2020). Epistemic Debt: A Concept and Measure of Technical Ignorance in Smart Manufacturing. In: Nunes, I. (eds) Advances in Human Factors and Systems Interaction. AHFE 2019. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 959. Springer, Cham.

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