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Small Artifacts – Big Technologies - The Power of Imperfect Principles

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The computer IC is the heart of the information and telecommunication technology. It is a tiny artifact, but with incredible organizing powers. We use this physical artifact as the location for studying central problems of the knowledge economy. First, the paper describes the history of chip design and the emergence of the technological community involved in designing and manufacturing computer chips. The community is structured in a way that reflects the underlying physical nature silicon and the numerous other materials and chemicals involved. But it also reflects the human agency of defining new projects, of visioning the liberation from atoms, of committing to travel many detours in the labyrinths of development, and of perceiving and exploring the affordance that new technologies hide. Some of these characteristics are analyzed empirically in a case study of designing a chip for a digitalized hearing instrument. It is found that technological progress is not hindered, but rather aided by the use of imperfect principles, abstractions and representations of reality. The power of such imperfections is discussed and generalized.

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Kristian Kreiner

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