Technology and Anthropology. Engineering and Humanities in dialogue
Ongoing developments in digital and industrial technology, as well as in our life world(s), are profoundly changing the image of societies and humankind. In the contemporary world, cultural studies and the humanities are called upon to analyze and reflect on the complex problems of »Industry 4.0« as well as on the ways that man and machine are made to work together in daily life. This concerns both artefacts of the industrial age (traditional industrial machinery, robotics) and what have become quotidian service technologies (smart phones, software applications, personal computers, the internet). Generally speaking, interrogating these developments means analyzing socio-technical processes in which the relationship between ›humankind and technology‹ is both consistently reflected and recalibrated. It is notable that there is an abundance of terms and arguments drawn from anthropology and the humanities in the discussions of human-machine relations. In this vein, demands are often made for »responsible« forms of technology, which not only serve mankind and thereby assign humans a »central« position in the world. There are also increasing calls for design technologies that incorporate »acceptance« and assume qualities such as »trust« built on »ethical reflection«. The emphatic »consideration«, or respect for human beings is a philosophical topos that integrated itself into the study of technology in the 1920s. This discourse was influenced by philosophers like Arnold Gehlen, Theodor Litt, or Simon Moser as well as psychologists (Fritz Giese), physiologists (Richard Wagner), and control engineers (Hermann Schmidt).
Current research tends to focus attention on what are perceived as successful human-machine interactions. Technology, from this perspective, ought to increase trust and acceptance of its potential, reduce complexity and affirm the central position of humans in their life world(s). Frequently, however, this research fails to interrogate its tacit assumptions, the premises of these ideas and the lines of continuity that undergird these ideas historically. An interdisciplinary exploration of this topic aims to sharpen our critical view of the intersections between humans and technology. We intend to do so by examining the dialogue between the humanities, or cultural studies, and the science and practice of engineering in order to open up new perspectives and means of rethinking contemporary developments in human-machine interactions.
Image credit: Die Ermittlung der natürlichen Griffform eines Bedienungsmittels [Choosing the natural form for a handle of a machine]. Source: Karl August Tramm, Psychotechnik und Taylor-System. Vol. 1, Berlin and Heidelberg 1921, p. 49
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Der ›Faktor Mensch‹ in der Mensch-Maschine-Interaktion. Schnittstellen zwischen Mensch und Technik aus geistes- und technikwissenschaftlichen Perspektiven
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