Hold it together: thresholds of understanding when building routing software
Paula Bialski (Leuphana University Lüneburg)
Paper short abstract:
This paper argues that by uncovering the human-machine complexity of a navigation system, we can uncover the various layers of understanding, misunderstanding, and ignorance among engineers, their managers, and their machines, when building such systems.
Paper long abstract:
How is my car seeing the road? How is it processing what is happening around it? Who is also helping me drive? Today's car ride entails a multitude of computer-mediated maneuvers and routing procedures, with a car processing probe data such as road traffic and car speed. Behind the software that helps navigate the car, sit a team of software engineers who attempt to optimize a route - helping reduce the number of factors that can affect how a car gets from point A to B. Oftentimes, these engineers and other stakeholders involved in building such systems, understand only a fragment of its complexity. How do they hold it together? How do they avoid failure? Based on 2 years of situated ethnography in a large mapping and navigation software company in Berlin, this paper zooms in on the multiple layers of understanding, misunderstanding, and ignorance in building a technical system. Where does 'knowing' a system begin and end? How much can we understand within the complexity of a computational system? In what moments do developers leave things up to chance? How do these barriers of understanding challenge hierarchical structures of power (such as power between a worker and a manager), or more experienced developer and a less experienced one? This paper argues that in uncovering the human-machine complexity of a navigation system, we can reveal the various thresholds of understanding among engineers, their managers, and their machines.
- Art and craft of joining and keeping things together