Toward a Critical Technical Practice / Philip Agre

A foundational article in both Artificial Intelligence and critical technical practice, containing a powerful theoretical framework for thinking about the ways that human assumptions and bias enter programming decisions at even the most basic level.

“A critical technical practice will, at least for the foreseeable future, require a split identity — one foot planted in the craft work of design and the other foot planted in the reflexive work of critique. Successfully spanning these borderlands, bridging the disparate sites of practice that computer work brings uncomfortably together, will require a historical understanding of the institutions and methods of the field, and it will draw on this understanding as a resource in choosing problems, evaluating solutions, diagnosing difficulties, and motivating alternative proposals. More concretely, it will require a praxis of daily work: forms of language, career strategies, and social networks that support the exploration of alternative work practices that will inevitably seem strange to insiders and outsiders alike.”

Agre, Philip E. 1997. “Toward a Critical Technical Practice.” In Bridging the Great Divide: Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work, edited by Geof Bowker, Les Gasser, Leigh Star, and Bill Turner, Open Access pre-print. Erlbaum.