By Sara Wachter-Boettcher
240 pages, hardcover, $24.95
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Have you read the terms of service agreement that comes with the new app you just installed? You might want to after reading Technically Wrong, by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. As technology becomes pervasive in our lives—from reading radiology charts to the algorithms judges rely on when they hand down a sentence in court—Technically Wrong takes a hard look at how assumptions, biases and actual harms are encoded into the software that rules our world.
How does it happen? As Wachter-Boettcher points out, no one sets out to design a racist app or a sexist photo filter. And yet, when a design studio or production house convenes a meeting—and mostly young white men are sitting at the table—that’s what inevitably happens. According to the stories Wachter-Boettcher frames in Technically Wrong, products end up getting designed and produced based on stereotypes and stale user personas (minivan mom, anyone?) instead of real-world data, user needs and input from half the target market: women.
Wachter-Boettcher has written a book for post-Weinstein times. Studded with anecdotes taken from research studies, Twitter accounts and Wachter-Boettcher’s own experience as a web consultant, Technically Wrong shows us what can go wrong with the assumptions made in the garages and board rooms of Silicon Valley—especially when it’s the men in the room who make the final decisions. Even more importantly, Wachter-Boettcher shows us how to fix the problem, one form field, push notification and hiring decision at a time. —Sam McMillan