Research line 3

Embedded Values

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To extend philosophical analyses of the embedding of values in technical artifacts to sociotechnical systems (project objective 3)

How Are Values Embedded in Technology?

Various authors have proposed accounts of how technology may embody values. We will build on the characterization of Van de Poel and Kroes, according to which a technical artifact x embodies a value G “if the designed properties of x have the potential to achieve or contribute to G (under appropriate circumstances) due to the fact that x has been designed for G”. They further distinguish between the intended, the embedded and the realized values of a technical artifact (see figure below). The intended values are the values intended by the designers of the artifact. The realized value may be different from the embedded value, for example because a technology is used differently than intended.


This account needs to be refined and extended in order to apply it to sociotechnical systems. Sociotechnical systems may be defined as systems that depend for their proper functioning not only on technical hardware but also on human behavior and social institutions. Sociotechnical systems are usually not designed from scratch but evolve and, in as far as they are designed, there is usually not one designer. This requires a redefinition of the notion intended value and may also require developing a notion of embedded value that does not depend on intentionally designed properties of a sociotechnical system.

Moreover, we need to account for the fact that in sociotechnical systems, values may also be embedded in institutions. Institutions will be understood as rule-sets; rules can both be formal (like legal rules or operational instructions) but also be informal. We will use the ADICO grammar developed by Crawford and Ostrom as basis to analyze institutional rules. This grammar analyses institutions in terms of

  • A: attributes, i.e. to whom a particular institution applies;
  • D: deontic operator, i.e. either permission (may), obligation (must), or prohibition (must not);
  • I: aim: actions or results to which the deontic operator applies;
  • C: conditions; describe when, where, how and to what extent the deontic operator applies;
  • O: or else; describe the sanctions of not observing an institution.

A main question is what the relation between values and institutional rules is. Two possibilities will be further explored:

  1. First, the aim that is part of the institutional rules (according to the ADICO grammar) may either refer to or be motivated by a value. In some cases, however, aims are more specific or instrumental so that it may be hard to associate values with them.
  2. In such cases, it may be worthwhile to look at a second possibility, namely that the institution as such serves a certain value. Such a relation between institutions and values is indeed suggested by teleological accounts of institutions.



Prof. Dr. Ibo van de Poel

Prof. Dr. Ibo van de Poel

Project leader

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Dr. Steffen Steinert

Dr. Steffen Steinert

Postdoctoral researcher

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Related Publications


van de Poel, Ibo

Embedding Values in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems Journal Article

In: Minds and Machines, 2020.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Klenk, Michael

How Do Technological Artefacts Embody Moral Values? Journal Article

In: Philosophy & Technology, 2020, ISSN: 2210-5441.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX