Knowing Machines: Essays on Technical Change

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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.

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About the author (1996)

MacKenzie holds a Personal Chair in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

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