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Our research seeks to better understand how code regulates. The idea that architecture or code can influence behavior is widely recognized, most prominently in Lessig's work. For example, the design of cookies affects online privacy, or how the design of digital rights management technologies affects intellectual property rights. Our work seeks to develop a systematic account of how code regulates in three areas.

Our research is divided into three areas

  1. How code develops - This area focuses on how values are embedded in technologies and how this affects the social and technical characteristics of code. A major part of this work has been to map out how different institutions, e.g., universities and firms, differentially emphasize social and technical characteristics of code.
  2. How people use, manipulate, and reconfigure code - People use and manipulate code in a variety of ways. One of our goals has been to identify key material characteristics of code. These characteristics are the knobs and levers that influence how code regulates.
  3. How to shape code - Society and government can influence the development of code to either reactively or proactively promote societal goals. This area focuses on the many ways this can occur either through market pressure, public pressure, fiscal incentives, or regulation. Our work provides a comprehensive analysis of these methods while considering pertinent technological and regulatory issues.

Why this is important:

  1. Consider the growing pervasiveness of information technologies. We are increasingly spending more and more time in virtual worlds, many of which are commercially developed. The design of these worlds has implications on transferring information and influencing societal values, such as privacy.
  2. Information technologies are malleable. The design of information technologies is entirely man-made and is not subject to the same physical laws as the built environment. This malleability allows for varying of visions of digital government, while also allowing society to address societal concerns with code.
  3. Time is of the essence in understanding these issues. If society seeks to shape information technologies, it must do it in the early stages before it becomes entrenched, and hence, more difficult to shape. For example, the transition to digital television broadcasting has been a costly and complex transition because of the entrenched nature of the standards and infrastructure for television.

Acknowledgement & Disclamer

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0081426, "Understanding Code": How Information Technologies Regulate Behavior and Grant No. 0429217, Governing with Information Technologies.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).