January 29, 2013

Pioneer of human values in technology design to give University Faculty Lecture

News and Information

Batya Friedman

We are the architects of the tools and technology we use, and those innovations don’t take place in a moral vacuum — they have values, says Batya Friedman, professor in the UW Information School.

Friedman, a longtime Information School faculty member who also directs the Value Sensitive Design Research Lab, will give the University Faculty Lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, in Room 130 of Kane Hall. The title of her lecture will be “The Shape of Being: Technology Design, Human Values, and the Future.”

“What we do with design matters,” Friedman said. “We’re not just passive in the face of technology, it’s not something that happens to us. We are the creators of these tools, after all.”

We can choose how we implement technology, Friedman said, and innovate in ways that match our lives, visions and needs.

“The purpose of our work is to show that you can make progress, can shape technology with some intentionality toward goals in service of what people consider important in their lives.”

Friedman has for two decades been a pioneer in the study of technology design that supports human values. She has researched online privacy, technology and homeless young people and large-scale urban simulation for land use and transportation. In addition to her Information School appointment, she is also an adjunct professor in the departments of computer science and engineering and human centered design and engineering.

With her Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal project, Friedman spreads word about international justice efforts following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left 800,000 people dead over three months. Working with a team of legal experts and videographers, she conducted 49 interviews with judges, interpreters, defense counsel and others who have served with the war crimes tribunal. The interviews are now on the web with an online tool that lets anyone with web access help curate the collection.

In her talk, Friedman will discuss projects involving privacy in public, the design of secure implantable medical devices and creating support systems to support international justice. She will reflect on four topics for which technology design has provocative implications for the future: communal intelligence, the human mind, the data cloud and the planet.

Friedman’s current work is on multi-lifespan information systems — addressing problems that cannot likely be resolved in a single lifetime — of which her ongoing work in Rwanda is an example.

The University Faculty Lecture has since 1976 honored current or emeriti faculty members whose research, scholarship or art has been recognized by their peers and whose achievements have had a substantial impact on their profession, later research or society as a whole. The recipient is selected by a committee of faculty members appointed by the President, and the honor comes with $5,000.

Friedman’s colleague Eliza Dresang, a professor in the Information School, said in a nominating letter, “In my many years in academia, I have known no one I find more deserving of such a stellar research, teaching and service award.”

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