Knowing Machines: Essays on Technical Change

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Overview

Ranging from broad inquiries into the roles of economics and sociology in the explanation of technological change to an argument for the possibility of "uninventing" nuclear weapons, this selection of Donald MacKenzie's essays provides a solid introduction to the style and the substance of the sociology of technology.

The essays are tied together by their explorations of connections (primarily among technology, society, and knowledge) and by their general focus on modern "high" technology. They also share an emphasis on the complexity of technological formation and fixation and on the role of belief (especially self-validating belief)
in technological change.

Two of the articles won major prizes on their original journal publication, and all but one date from 1991 or later. A substantial new introduction outlines the common themes underlying this body of work and places it in the context of recent debates in technology studies. Two conceptual essays are followed by seven empirical essays focusing on the laser gyroscopes that are central to modern aircraft navigation technology, supercomputers
(with a particular emphasis on their use in the design of nuclear weapons), the application of mathematical proof in the design of computer systems, computer-related accidental deaths, and the nature of the knowledge that is needed to design a nuclear bomb.

The MIT Press

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"These are stunning essays. MacKenzie's history of supercomputers and inertial navigation systems shatters the economists' belief thattechnology developed along 'natural trajectories' in the past; his analysis of the importance of tacit knowledge in the development of complex technology, however, also challenges the political scientists' belief that nuclear weapons,once constructed, can never be 'uninvented' in the future." Scott D. Sagan, StanfordUniversity

"The essays collected in Knowing Machines are enormouslyimpressive: for the quality of the scholarship, for their wide rangeand for what they indicate about Donald MacKenzie's grasp of thedemanding technical issues under discussion."Steven Yearley , Times Literary Supplement

Scott D. Sagan

These are stunning essays. MacKenzie's history of supercomputers and inertial navigation systems shatters the economists' belief that technology developed along 'natural trajectories' in the past; his analysis of the importance of tacit knowledge in the development of complex technology, however, also challenges the political scientists' belief that nuclear weapons,
once constructed, can never be 'uninvented' in the future.

Steven Yearley, Times Literary Supplement

The essays collected in Knowing Machines are enormously impressive: for the quality of the scholarship, for their wide range and for what they indicate about Donald MacKenzie's grasp of the demanding technical issues under discussion.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262631884
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/1998
  • Series: Inside Technology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald MacKenzie is Professor of Sociology (Personal Chair) at the University of Edinburgh.
His books include Inventing Accuracy (1990), Knowing Machines
(1996), and Mechanizing Proof (2001), all published by the MIT Press. Portions of
An Engine, not a Camera won the Viviana A. Zelizer Prize in economic sociology from the American Sociological Association.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 1
2 Marx and the Machine 23
3 Economic and Sociological Explanations of Technological change 49
4 From the Luminiferous Ether to the Boeing 757 67
5 Nuclear Weapons Laboratories and the Development of Supercomputing 99
6 The Charismatic Engineer 131
7 The Fangs of the VIPER 159
8 Negotiating Arithmetic, Constructing Proof 165
9 Computer-Related Accidental Death 185
10 Tacit Knowledge and the Uninvention of Nuclear Weapons 215
Notes 261
Index 333
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