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Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies

Learn about the impact of technology on society. Explore the philosophy of technology and mediation theory, focused on design.

10,592 enrolled on this course

Asian woman, philosophy of technology
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Understanding and designing the relations between technology and society

In every aspect of our lives we make use of all kinds of technologies. Technologies can anticipate needs or solve problems, and they can extend or enhance human capacities and activities. Technologies have made life easier, but also complicated our world. In this course you will get acquainted with some key approaches in philosophy of technology and design. The course focuses on the relations between humans and technologies. You will learn how philosophy can help us understand the social implications of technologies. And you will find out how to apply these insights in the practice of design.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Human beings have always used technologies. But ‘What’s the difference between a hammer and the technologies that we use today, like smartphones, 3-D printers, self-driving cars and medical implants or even robots or teaching a class?’ In almost every aspect of life technologies play an important role to help us to do things. They expand our capacities and they even do things on their own. Technology has made life easier, but at the same time, it has also made life more complex. And the impact of technology can reach far beyond the intentions of the designers and the intentions of their users.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds So ‘How would you understand this influence of technology on human beings and on society and how to deal with it in a responsible way?’ These will be the questions that we will work on in this course. We will show you how to analyze the relationship between technology and society. We will also show you how to use this analysis to help you design new technologies in a good way. Many people believe that the main question regarding technology is ‘Whether technology control society or if society can still control technology?’ We will give you an alternative approach in which we recognize that technology always helps us understand the world and shapes our lives, our society, our world.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds But an approach in which we can also take responsibility for its influence, in which we can raise ethical questions. In this view technologies, act as mediators of practices and experiences, allowing us to interact with the world around us. Within this approach of technological mediation, we can analyze the influence of technology on human life. And what’s more, we can use this approach for the ethical evaluation and the design of new technologies like artificial intelligence, which will play a central role in the last week of this course. The DesignLab of the University of Twente will be an inspiring, background, inspiring setting for this course. In the DesignLab, we connect science and society through design, combining ‘High tech and Human touch’.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds The slogan of the entire University of Twente. We really hope that you will join our course.


  • Week 1

    Classical Philosophy of Technology

    • Why should we think about the implications of technology for society?

      Welcome to week 1! This week we will introduce you to ‘the basics’ of Philosophy of Technology, via two classical thinkers with outspoken views on the implications of technology for society: Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger.

    • Is technology neutral or does it determine our world?

      Technology changes society. It brings forward new norms, new obligations and responsibilities. This raises questions about the power of technology. It might be instrumental, but is it just a neutral tool? And who is in control?

    • Applying knowledge

      Jaspers’ existential approach and Heidegger’s hermeneutic approach lead to a diagnosis of alienation. Though pessimistic, their analyses help us to think about the effect of technology on human authenticity and responsibility.

  • Week 2

    Technological mediation

    • How do we understand the impact of technology?

      Welcome to week 2! This week, we will delve further into how technologies shape relations between humans and the world. The concept of “mediation” provides a basis for understanding the role of technologies in this relation.

    • What kind of human-technology-world relations can we distinguish?

      Humans can have different kinds of relations with technologies; technologies can be in us, between us, added to us, and even be like us. By investigating these human-technology relations we can investigate what technologies 'do'.

    • Verbeek's theory of technological mediation

      Making use of ideas and concepts of classical and contemporary thinkers, Verbeek has introduced a new approach to understand the relation between humans and technologies. This mediation theory can be used in technology design.

  • Week 3

    Moralising things

    • Can artefacts have morality?

      Welcome to week 3! This week, we will focus on the ethical dimensions of mediation, specifically within the context of design. The idea of “ethics in things” invites you to think about how designing is actually doing ethics.

    • Designing morals in technology

      When technologies influence – or rather mediate – how people act and how they live their lives, what can the role of designers be? Verbeek explains how mediations can be anticipated, assessed and designed.

    • Do we want this?

      How can designers shape mediations in a responsible way? How ethical is it to use design to influence people’s actions and decisions in the first place? And how does it relate to fundamental values like autonomy and democracy?

  • Week 4

    Ethics of AI

    • What about AI?

      Welcome to the last week of this course. You will learn more about the technology of Artificial Intelligence, its impacts on society, and the ethics of AI. We will also bring together the theories discussed in the past weeks.

    • 'AI' transforming society

      How does Artificial Intelligence affect human beings and society? To get a closer understanding, we need to move beyond the idea that AI is replacing humans in order to focus on the relations between humans and AI.

    • Developing an ethical framework for AI

      AI ethics is booming: many organiszations, companies, and countries have developed frameworks for ‘ethical AI’. In this activity, we explain the basics of AI ethics, and show the need for a globally inclusive ethical framework.

    • From principles to practice

      How to bring AI Ethics into practice? We will introduce you to ‘Guidance Ethics’: a practical tool to anticipate the impact of a technology, identify the values at stake, and develop options for redesign, implementation, and use.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Evaluate some classical thinkers in philosophy of technology.
  • Reflect on the power of technology: are humans still in?
  • Explore the contemporary philosophical approach of technological mediation.
  • Engage in case studies to get insights in the impact of technology on society and human life.
  • Debate the ethical dimension of technology and apply this to design.
  • Discuss the ethical limits of designing technologies that influence our behaviour.
  • Analyze the ethical dimensions of Artificial Intelligence.

Who is the course for?

This course has been created for anyone interested in the relations between technology and society, and in particular for people working or studying in philosophy, engineering, design, social science and policy. The course might be specifically relevant to those interested in what philosophical analysis can contribute to the practice of design, engineering, and policy-making.

Who will you learn with?

Professor of Philosophy of Technology and co-director of the DesignLab at the University of Twente | researcher in the philosophy of human-technology relations, ethics, and design. (www.ppverbeek.nl)

Alumna of the MSc Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society University of Twente | Digital Ethics Expert

Project manager Technology & Society at University of Twente | Alumna of MSc Public Administration at University of Twente

Alumna of the MSc Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society at the University of Twente | Ph.D. Researcher in Philosophy of Technology.

Who developed the course?

University of Twente

As a young and entrepreneurial university in the Netherlands, the University of Twente prepares young people to tackle the grand challenges the world will be facing during the coming decades.

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