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You think that you understand technology but when you arrive at The Known World, you discover a land where software pirates sail the seven seas, Derek the Rocket Scientist holds a communal barn raising to install his solar roof, and the future of technology policy is perpetually debated by the Society for the Promotion of Goodness and its rival, the Association for the Prevention of Bad Things.  These are some of the people and institutions that populate The Known World and help explain the nature of society and technology.

This blog contains the essays of David Alan Grier, which appear each month to discuss the ideas, the culture and the stories of the digital age. These blog postings and podcasts come from the column of the same name in Computer.

This podcast is brought to you by Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.

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The Policy Structure

 At a recent meeting of my research group, one of the members raised the issue of policy decisions.  We had been discussing new ways of gathering public health data with social media.  The speaker suggested that the major institutions of public health might be interested in surpressing such techniques, as they would threated the existence of these bodies. 

As with all things, the answer is both yes and no.  Information technology began systematically replacing human organizations long before Robinson identified such institutions as information processors in his 1923 book.  At the same time, that replacement process has been highly dependent on the market.  Technology replaces organizations when it can do the work more inexpensively or get more results for the same cost.  That border is fluid, as the cost of organization and technology is far from fixed.  The political machines vanished, or at least weakened considerably, with the rise of the public opinion infrastructure.  Public health may face some of the same pressures but it has different forces shaping its market - notably the deep concern we all share for the well-being of our selves and our loved ones - and hence the border between technollogy and organization will likely be quite different.


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David Alan Grier

David Alan Grier is a computer scientist, an established observer of the technology industry and a writer on issues of science and society.  In addition to producing The Known World, he has written two books,  When Computers Were Human, (Princeton University Press, 2005), which is the story of the workers who did scientific calculation before we had electronic computers.  In addition he has published Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the End of the Computer Revolution, (John Wiley/IEEE Computer Society, 2009).  A video of When Computers Were Human can be found here while a brief talk about Too Soon to Tell is found here. 

He is currently an associate professor at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.  

Despite sharing a common hometown and a common birth year with David Alan Grier the actor, he is an entirely different person.