Understanding developments in computer technology: a pragmatic and synthetic interpretation

Conroy, Peter William (1988). Understanding developments in computer technology: a pragmatic and synthetic interpretation. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f91e


This thesis constructs a new concept of technology which it uses to explain developments in computers and their practical application.

The need for this reconceptuallsatlon is demonstrated by a survey illustrating the variability and contradictions between existing uses of the term ’technology', in particular their tendency to emphasise either its concrete or abstract attributes.

The possibility of using positivist principles as the basis for a comprehensive concept which can synthesis these two orientations is examined and rejected.

Instead, the new concept is constructed with ideas drawn from the work of various non-positivist theorists, principally Marx and Foucault. The result is not a definitive list of characteristics, but a description of the relationships in which technology is used and through which it changes.

In order to explore the potential of this concept, it is used to develop an understanding of various aspects of computer technology. Firstly, historical events which led to the construction of the first modern computers are described and their interpretation in terms of the synthetic concept of technology contrasted with ones derived from a positivist causal analysis.

In its second application to computer technology, the synthetic concept is used to interpret changes in contemporary methods of developing commercial data processing systems. This discussion is then reinforced and expanded through an interpretation of developments in current research into artificial intelligence.

Finally some broader social implications of the case being made by the thesis are examined. Limitations in its argument for this purpose are seen to arise both from the methodology adopted and the narrow empirical domain which has been considered. Consequently new directions of research which will further validate its conclusions are identified.

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