The Quest for Edge Awareness, Lessons not yet learned PhD Thesis on practical and situated usefulness of advanced technological systems among inescapable uncertainties and competing interests in a world of dynamic changes

University dissertation from Uppsala : Institutionen för informatik och media

Abstract: This thesis problematizes the concept of usefulness, in part by taking questions to the extreme. The starting point is the contemporary view of usefulness, a view that remains within a traditional paradigm of technical rationality in which important aspects are disregarded or not perceived because they are not part of the equation. For scrutiny of technological usefulness that is a socially situated phenomenon regarding physical systems, neither interpretivist nor positivist research approaches are sufficient. Both views are required. Critical Realism supports such duality, facilitating the combination of elements from different paradigms, and provides methodological guidelines for doing this. The critical realist approach makes it possible to transcend the boundaries of technical rationality and contribute an alternative definition of usefulness that takes into account also the situated, the contextual, and the unpredictable. The aim is that this definition will contribute to a transformation of society.Concepts related to usefulness, such as predictability, controllability, effectiveness, and safety, are revisited, redefined, or complemented. Underlying aspects and mechanisms are explored and tensions identified, resulting in a theoretical contribution with models and frameworks explaining what is argued to be the true nature of usefulness. Potentiality is suggested as a complementary concept to effectiveness, similar to how resilience complements safety. Situated usefulness is then defined using these four concepts. The phenomenon known as situation awareness is scrutinized as well, and complemented by system awareness and the thesis title concept, edge awareness.Four cases, two airline crashes and two nuclear power plant events, and three future scenarios, constitute the empirical contribution. The analysis shows that the contributed frameworks and redefinition of usefulness facilitate different or extended explanations of all four events, and that future cases lack considerations of situated usefulness. Research implications center on the human role and our responsibilities in relation to the technology that we use, and on the meaning of concepts defining this role. We are situated human beings. Our role is to be involved and responsible, a role requiring awareness and controllability. The escalating ubiquity and the character of computerized technological systems make therefore the quest for edge awareness more important than ever.