Programming and people: optimizing accessibility in your market
In the previous Programming and People article, we discussed unwritten biases found in code in modern software and why it is useful to reframe code as a cultural object. The unintentional biases of the coders impact the potential value of decision-making software currently being used and written across the world.
The objectivity of that code and software has been reduced. It is this interplay between subjectivity and objectivity* that is integral to the process of producing anything. In fact, it is completely accurate to say that things with a prominent level of objective value (for example, food or clothing) are especially commercially valuable.
Objectivity in design: Nike’s Flyease journey and N7
So, in this sense, objectivity and subjectivity are poles at either end of a spectrum. When humans design and make something – anything from a sandwich to sneakers, smartphones to bullet trains – there are aspects of subjectivity and objectivity implied in the objects’ existence.
I’m sure many people would be very upset if a company like Nike offered shoes in just three sizes. There would be chaos, and it would be a foolish business strategy to exclude a large part of their market. Nike optimises its products’ objectivity and caters to everyone who wants to wear their shoes, even offering bespoke sneakers: a shoe you can tie up with just one hand for athletes with disabilities and shoes designed specifically for and by Native Americans in order to benefit and strengthen indigenous communities in the US.
…this next milestone in the technology industry is all about ubiquity and increasing access.
Access and ubiquity: Lamborghinis and dishwashing liquid
These implications of objectivity and subjectivity are all related to access (this is a passive quality related to market penetration in a sense). Any business launching a new product needs to consider its target markets’ access to its product. If your product is targeted at everyone and is aimed at reaching maximum ubiquity, then objectivity must be maximised. If your product is targeted at the elite few, then a higher level of subjectivity can be accepted.
Dishwashing liquid is targeted at everyone who cleans eating utensils – almost everyone – but, Lamborghini sports cars are only targeted at those elite few who can afford them. The former is valuable in its ubiquity and usefulness, while the latter is valuable in its rarity and luxury.
Algorithms, artificial intelligence and other technologies related to the fourth industrial revolution, are not intending to produce a Lamborghini equivalent. Make no mistake though; if you have the cash, there are certainly shiny things out there. But the fundamental purpose of this next milestone in the technology industry is all about ubiquity (take a gander at Google’s Ubiquity Computing Dev Summit) and increasing access. This demonstrates a necessary focus on objectivity in the design and creation of technology, and we would do well to remember that.
*The value of objectivity and subjectivity as I’m informally using in this article is related to where an object is situated on an access continuum of sorts. Objectivity: how ‘open’ and accessible something is (for example, your name printed on a page which any literate person can read), or Subjective: how ‘closed’ and inaccessible something is (for example, your squiggly chicken-scratch signature that no one can read except you).
Author: Simon Pienaar