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date: 08 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that, just as technological artefacts can break as a result of mechanical, electrical, or other physical defects not fully accounted for in their design, they can also break as a result of social defects not fully accounted for in their design. These failures resulting from social defects can be called social failures. The chapter then proposes a definition of social failure as well as a taxonomy of social failure modes—the underlying causes that lead to social failures. An explicit and detailed understanding of social failure modes, if properly applied in engineering design practice, could result in a fuller evaluation of the social and ethical implications of technology, either during the upstream design and engineering phases of a product, or after its release. Ideally, studying social failure modes will improve people’s ability to anticipate and reduce the rate or severity of undesirable social failures prior to releasing technology into the wild.

Keywords: technological artifacts, social defects, social failures, social failure modes, engineering, design

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