Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 571–591 | Cite as

Appraising Black-Boxed Technology: the Positive Prospects

  • E. S. DahlEmail author
Research Article


One staple of living in our information society is having access to the web. Web-connected devices interpret our queries and retrieve information from the web in response. Today’s web devices even purport to answer our queries directly without requiring us to comb through search results in order to find the information we want. How do we know whether a web device is trustworthy? One way to know is to learn why the device is trustworthy by inspecting its inner workings (Lehrer The Monist, 78(2), 156–170 1995; Humphreys 2004, Episteme, 6(2), 221–229 2009). But ordinary users of web devices cannot inspect their inner workings because of their scale, complexity, and the corporate secrecy which enshrouds both the procedures by which the devices operate and the companies that make them (Pasquale 2015). Further piling on this predicament, authors have criticized web technology on the grounds that the invisibility of the web devices’ inner workings prevents users from critically assessing the procedures that produce a given output, in some cases, barring users from fulfilling their epistemic responsibilities (Simon Ethics and Information Technology, 12(4), 343–355 2010; Miller and Record Episteme, 10(2), 117–134 2013). I consider four broad kinds of reasons which we can acquire without inspecting the inner workings of black-boxed technology: individual understanding, expert testimony, testing through experience, and social vetting; and show how each is a viable method of appraising black-boxed technology. By deploying these methods, we can remain responsible inquirers while nonetheless benefitting from today’s epistemic resources on the web.


Opacity Transparency Web technology Epistemic responsibility Rational inquiry Black box 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Reed CollegePortlandUSA

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