Skip Navigation

Isaac Record

“Isaac

research

How does changing technology affect what we end up knowing?

Initially, I focused on scientific instruments and computers in nuclear science, and I'm currently investigating knowledge online and in the classroom.

We increasingly rely on technology to find information, make choices, and take action. My research explores (1) accounts of communal knowledge practices, which have been developed in exciting ways by philosophers of science, social epistemologists, historians, sociologists, and learning designers, and (2) concerns about trust in technology, under investigation by philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists of technology. I study the practices of scientists and others who use instruments, the debates that accompany the introduction of new techniques to established disciplines and other knowledge contexts, and the epistemological consequences of pursuing inquiries or education within a technological infrastructure. I believe that empirical investigations into knowledge practices are a necessary complement to traditional philosophical work based on conceptual analysis and thought experiments. The resulting situated understanding of our epistemic and ethical condition is sensitive to a network of factors, including values, capabilities, and material resources, allowing us to better integrate our understandings of knowledge and action.

Current research

I am currently working on a book about knowledge on the internet, in collaboration with Boaz Miller of Zefat Academic College, Israel. In Summer 2022, we are Fellows at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies. We are very pleased to have won a spot in the 2023 Ann Johnson Institute for STS Book Manuscript Workshop.

We are also working on a paper on synthetic media such as deepfakes, DALL-E, and GPT-3.

Boaz Miller and Isaac Record. In preparation. "Ways of Worldfaking"

Synthetic media, that is, audio, images, and video created by, or with the aid of, algorithms, are increasingly capable of creating realistic media that make it appear as if people did something they didn’t, undermining our fundamental epistemic standards and practices. Yet the nature of the epistemic threat they pose remains elusive. After all, fictional or distorted representations of reality are as old as media itself. Existing accounts of technology as extending the senses (Humphreys 2004), mediating between subjects and the world (Verbeek 2011), or translating between actants (Latour 2005) cannot characterize this threat. Existing concrete accounts of the threat of deepfakes by social epistemologists such as Regina Rini (2020) and Don Fallis (2020) fall short of their target. Employing the notions of artifact affordance and technological possibility (Record 2013; Davis 2020), we argue that the epistemic threat of synthetic media is that for the first time they afford ordinary computer users the practicable possibility to make fictional worlds indistinguishable from the real world. Normatively, a deepfake is epistemically malignant when (1) a reasonable person is misled to believe that the fictional world is the actual world; (2) they form beliefs about the actual world about issues that are morally or epistemically important. For example, a satirical deepfake of Queen Elizabeth dancing to hip-hop song is benign because a reasonable person understands this is fiction. But a deepfake of a misogynic speech by Biden is malignant because it misleads a reasonable person about Biden’s views of women. We illustrate how this analysis generalizes to other case studies, such as a Photoshop makeover, or a QAnon discussion group.

Publications

Peer reviewed journal articles

Isaac Record and Boaz Miller. 2022. People, Platforms, and Posts: Reducing the spread of online toxicity by contextualizing content and setting norms. Asian Journal of Philosophy 1, 41. https://doi.org/10.1007/s44204-022-00042-2.
(Equal co-authors)
Paper link (open access)

We present a novel model of individual people, online posts, and media platforms to explain the online spread of epistemically toxic content such as fake news and suggest possible responses. We argue that a combination of technical features, such as the algorithmically curated feed structure, and social features, such as the absence of stable social-epistemic norms of posting and sharing in social media, are largely responsible for the unchecked spread of epistemically toxic content online. Sharing constitutes a distinctive communicative act, governed by a dedicated norm and motivated to a large extent by social identity maintenance. But confusion about this norm and its lack of inherent epistemic checks lead readers to misunderstand posts, attribute excess or insufficient credibility to posts, and allow posters to evade epistemic accountability—all contributing to the spread of epistemically toxic content online. This spread can be effectively addressed if (1) people and platforms add significantly more context to shared posts, and (2) platforms nudge people to develop and follow recognized epistemic norms of posting and sharing.

Aubrey Wigner, Megan Halpern, and Isaac Record. 2018. Future Design Studio–Building a Growth Mindset and a Path to Persistence Through Improvisation and Design Fiction. First Year Engineering Education Conference, ASEE, Glassboro, NJ.
(Provided editorial support and contributed to research products.)
Paper link

Future Design Studio is a multidisciplinary two-day workshop combining science, technology, history, improvisation, design, and making. The workshop seeks to enhance retention in STEM by helping students form a develop a growth mindset and the communal traits necessary for success. To accomplish this, the workshop provides an environment where students engage in improvisation exercises to build community, practice communication skills, and develop critical thinking by examining scientific and technological progress. During the workshop, students explore ethical and societal issues surrounding science and technology through the physical prototyping of imagined artifacts from 100 years in the future and through watching and discussing an improvisational performance by professional actors using the artifacts the students have created. Approximately 50 underrepresented and/or at-risk first year students participated in Future Design Studio in 2017. Initial results show students are developing the foundations of a growth mindset through their experience in Future Design Studio. Students also reported an increase in their comfort levels with communicating in their classes, a greater sense that they will succeed in STEM fields, and the creation of a positive community to grow with during their time at college.

Hannah Turner, Gabby Resch, Daniel Southwick, Rhonda McEwen, Adam K. Dubé and Isaac Record. 2017. Using 3D Printing to Enhance Understanding and Engagement with Young Audiences: Lessons from Workshops in a Museum. 60(3): 311–333.
(Provided editorial support and contributed to research products.)
Journal link

This paper details findings from a collaborative research project that studied children learning to 3D print in a museum, and provides an overview of the study design to improve related future programs. We assessed young visitors’ capacity to grasp the technical specificities of 3D printing, as well as their engagement with the cultural history of shoemaking through the museum's collection. Combining the museum's existing pedagogical resources with hands-on technology experiences designed by Semaphore researchers, this study enabled both researchers and museum education staff to evaluate the use of 3D-driven curriculum and engagement materials designed for children visiting cultural heritage museums. This study raises critical questions regarding the practicality of deploying 3D media to engage young learners in museums, and this paper illuminates the challenges in developing models for children to put historical and contextual information into practice.

Miller, Boaz and Isaac Record. 2017. Responsible Epistemic Technologies. New Media and Society. 19(12): 1945–1963.
(equal co-authors)
Preprint from Philpapers; Journal link

Information providing and gathering increasingly involve technologies like search engines, which actively shape their epistemic surroundings. Yet, a satisfying account of the epistemic responsibilities associated with them does not exist. We analyze automatically generated search suggestions from the perspective of social epistemology to illustrate how epistemic responsibilities associated with a technology can be derived and assigned. Drawing on our previously developed theoretical framework that connects responsible epistemic behavior to practicability, we address two questions: first, given the different technological possibilities available to searchers, the search technology, and search providers, who should bear which responsibilities? Second, given the technology’s epistemically relevant features and potential harms, how should search terms be autocompleted? Our analysis reveals that epistemic responsibility lies mostly with search providers, which should eliminate three categories of autosuggestions: those that result from organized attacks, those that perpetuate damaging stereotypes, and those that associate negative characteristics with specific individuals.

Record, Isaac, Daniel Southwick, ginger coons, and Matt Ratto. 2015. Regulating the Liberator: Prospects for the Regulation of 3D Printing. Journal of Peer Production 6.
(Lead author. Ratto was PI, Southwick and coons contributed to writing and supporting research.)
Open access

Soon after Cody Wilson released his plans for the Liberator 3D printable gun, our Critical Making Laboratory undertook to produce a non-functioning version of the gun in order to assess the technical, material, and economic challenges associated with 3D printing proscribed objects. This paper recounts our experiences in creating the gun and analyzes the disruptive implications of increasing availability of emerging fabrication technologies for regulation and regulators. 3D printing promises to upend traditional manufacturing by making complex, precision objects easy to produce. Plans are digital and can be duplicated and distributed over the Internet essentially without cost. 3D printers themselves, like their 2D namesakes, appear to be general purpose machines with many legitimate functions, making their regulation a challenge. Some attention has already been paid to what regulators should do and to predicting what they will do. In this paper, we seek to explore what regulators can do. First, we lay out a conceptual framework that allows us to assess the technological possibilities afforded by 3D printers. Second, we assess the increased regulatory challenge presented by this changed technological infrastructure. We observe that much effective regulation is accomplished by technical, economic, ethical, and social constraints on action rather than by explicit legal proscription. For example, the high cost of precision machining and high level of technical skill required has traditionally been an effective prophylaxis against private individuals producing high-quality firearms “under the radar.” Low-cost 3D printers have the potential to allow for the near-effortless creation of precision parts, erasing this “contextual regulation.” We consider, in broad strokes, several possible regulatory targets: 3D printers, print materials, software, and the design file. For example, 3D printers could be licensed, materials could be watermarked, software could prevent the creation of certain shapes, or designs could carry increased legal culpability for damages or injuries. Against the potential gains to public safety, we weigh the potential costs of regulation that may 1) increase barriers to innovation, 2) unnecessarily restrict or complicate access to general purpose equipment, or 3) be unworkably costly in dollars and person-hours.

Ratto, Matt, Isaac Record, ginger coons, and Max Julien. 2014. Blind Tennis: Extreme Users and Participatory Design. PDC '14 Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference: Short Papers, Industry Cases, Workshop Descriptions, Doctoral Consortium Papers, and Keynote Abstracts - Volume 2, 41-44. DOI: 10.1145/2662155.2662199
(Co-author with Ratto. coons contributed to writing and Julien contributed programming products. In the field of design, refereed conference proceedings are the gold standard.)
Journal link

We explore questions related to materiality, participation, and inclusive design that arise from a series of events involving the design and prototyping of a tennis ball for use in ‘blind tennis.’ We observed that the blind user-designers were full participants in the design discussion and testing phases, but were less able to take part in the construction of the prototypes. This prompted us to examine the role material engagement plays in participatory and inclusive forms of design and, as part of our explorations, to create an experimental circuit design workflow that accommodates blind prototypers. We use this experience to probe the role materiality plays in processes of participatory design.

Record, Isaac. 2013. Technology and Epistemic Possibility. Journal for the General Philosophy of Science 44(2): 319-336. DOI: 10.1007/s10838-013-9230-8.
(Sole author)
Preprint on Philpapers; Journal link

My aim in this paper is to give a philosophical analysis of the relationship between contingently available technology and the process of knowledge production. My concern is with what specific subjects can know in practice, given their particular conditions, especially available technology, rather than what can be known “in principle” by a hypothetical entity like Laplace’s Demon. The argument has two parts. In the first, I’ll construct a novel account of epistemic possibility that incorporates two pragmatic conditions: responsibility and practicability. For example, whether subjects can gain knowledge depends in some circumstances on whether they have the capability of gathering relevant evidence. In turn, the possibility of undertaking such investigative activities depends in part on factors like ethical constraints, economical realities, and available technology. In the second part of the paper, I’ll introduce “technological possibility” to analyze the set of actions made possible by available technology. To help motivate the problem and later test my proposal, I’ll focus on a specific historical case, one of the earliest uses of digital electronic computers in a scientific investigation. I conclude that the epistemic possibility of gaining access to certain scientific knowledge depends (in some cases) on the technological possibility for the construction and operation of scientific instruments.

Record, Isaac, Matt Ratto, Amy Ratelle, Adriana Ieraci, and Nina Czegledy. 2013. DIY Prosthetics Workshops: 'Critical making' for public understanding of human augmentation. Technology and Society (ISTAS), IEEE International Symposium (2013): 117-125.
(Lead author. Ratto was PI, Ieraci and Czegledy organized workshops and selected some of the prompts included in paper. In the field of design, refereed conference proceedings are the gold standard.)
Journal link

We reflect on our ongoing series of DIY Prosthetics Workshops intended to engage the public in critical discourse about technology and human augmentation through engagement with prosthetics. The goal of these workshops is to enhance understanding of prosthetic technologies through both conceptual and material exploration. We describe our efforts to capture the makings of our workshop in an open, modifiable “kit” comprising “three Ps:” prompts for reflection, parts for construction, and publics for participation.

Miller, Boaz and Isaac Record. 2013. Justified Belief in a Digital Age: On the Epistemic Implications of Secret Internet Technologies. Episteme 10(2): 117-134.
(Equal co-authors
Preprint on Philpapers; Journal link

People increasingly form beliefs based on information gained from automatically filtered Internet sources such as search engines. However, the workings of such sources are often opaque, preventing subjects from knowing whether the information provided is biased or incomplete. Users’ reliance on Internet technologies whose modes of operation are concealed from them raises serious concerns about the justificatory status of the beliefs they end up forming. Yet it is unclear how to address these concerns within standard theories of knowledge and justification. To shed light on the problem, we introduce a novel conceptual framework that clarifies the relations between justified belief, epistemic responsibility, action, and the technological resources available to a subject. We argue that justified belief is subject to certain epistemic responsibilities that accompany the subject’s particular decision-taking circumstances, and that one typical responsibility is to ascertain, so far as one can, whether the information upon which the judgment will rest is biased or incomplete. What this responsibility comprises is partly determined by the inquiry-enabling technologies available to the subject. We argue that a subject’s beliefs that are formed based on Internet-filtered information are less justified than they would be if she either knew how filtering worked or relied on additional sources, and that the subject may have the epistemic responsibility to take measures to enhance the justificatory status of such beliefs.

Dissertation

Record, Isaac. 2012. Knowing Instruments: Design, Reliability, and Scientific Practice. University of Toronto.
Dissertation supervised by Anjan Chakravartty, Joseph Berkovitz, and Chen-Pang Yeang (University of Toronto). External: Allan Franklin (University of Colorado).
University of Toronto repository; ProQuest database

My dissertation explores how scientific instruments figure into the process of knowledge production, focusing on a case study of Monte Carlo simulation in nuclear physics. Virtually every science now relies on scientific instruments. Extant accounts of instruments treat them as information bearers or extensions of native senses, but do not explain how instruments come to have the status they do. My dissertation fills this gap. The central argument is that the instrument design process aims to produce a coherent and reinforcing set of material capacities, conceptual models, and practices of trust that, together, warrant the kinds of inferences scientists make on the basis of instrument results.

Other Published Works

Resch, Gabby, Dan Southwick, Isaac Record, and Matt Ratto. 2017. Thinking as Handwork: Critical Making with Humanistic Concerns. In Jentery Sayers (ed.), Making Humanities Matter. University of Minnesota Press.
(Resch is lead author. Record contributed to writing, research, and provided editorial guidance.)
Preprint

Late one night, in the spring of 2015, two members of our group found themselves hunched over a lab bench strewn with skeins of wire insulation and plastic shavings, brainstorming over a seemingly unsophisticated, but remarkably complex, challenge: how does one go about making a semi-hollow piece of plastic feel like a hand-worn chunk of solid ivory? We experimented with a number of shop-room hacks, from buffing the object’s striated surface with a mixture of animal fat and carnauba wax until it had the ‘worn’ texture and look we expected a piece of aged ivory would have, to drilling a hole in its base and filling it with fine sand in an attempt to simulate how an ivory object of similar size might weigh on one’s hand. This exercise was part of an experiment in creating 3D-printed replicas of ivory busts from a collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The busts they reproduce are themselves replicas, originally produced on a Victorian- era pantograph machine (which can be thought of as a nineteenth-century precursor to modern CNC and 3D-printing technology) invented by Benjamin Cheverton, a notable artist, craftsperson, and engineer, for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Each of these replicas would have been painstakingly copied mechanically from much larger marble busts, many hand-carved by Sir Francis Chantrey, the leading portrait sculptor during Regency-era Britain.

Isaac Record & Boaz Miller. 2018. Taking iPhone Seriously: Epistemic Technologies and the Extended Mind. In Duncan Pritchard, Jesper Kallestrup‎, Orestis Palermos & J. Adam Carter‎ (eds.), Extended Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
(equal co-authors)
Preprint on Philpapers; Google Books

David Chalmers thinks his iPhone exemplifies the extended mind thesis by meeting the criteria that he and Andy Clark established in their well-known 1998 paper. Andy Clark agrees. We take this proposal seriously, evaluating the case of the GPS-enabled smartphone as a potential mind extender. We argue that the “trust and glue” criteria enumerated by Clark and Chalmers are incompatible with both the epistemic responsibilities that accompany everyday activities and the practices of trust that enable users to discharge them. Prospects for revision of the original criteria are dim. We therefore call for a rejection of the trust criterion and a reevaluation of the extended mind thesis.

Record, Isaac. 2012. Participatory Material Culture Environmental Scan. Aegis/Ontario, SEM-2012 001.
(editor)
Link

This environmental scan provides a snapshot of desktop fabrication technologies in 2012. The report focuses on two streams of emerging technologies: (1) additive manufacturing, or “3D printing”, and (2) sensor/controller/actuator toolkits, or “control systems”. Both technologies have existed for decades, but have only recently attained “desktop” status in virtue of increasing public availability, falling capital and supply costs, and the wider availability of enabling technologies like easy-to-use programming languages. The intention is not to ignore well- established desktop prototypers like milling and sewing machines. Rather, the hope is that the attention surrounding emerging technologies will help to underline the opportunities that desktop prototyping affords. Moreover, because these technologies are still emerging, there is ample opportunity to intervene and shape their trajectories, for example to encourage the development of accessible tools. In this report we attend roughly to developments in the $100-$10000 range for 2012 equipment, $10000-$100000 for horizon equipment. Similarly, we attend to parts in the $1-$100 range for 2012 products, and $100-$1000 for future/planned products.

Record, Isaac. 2010. Scientific Instruments: Knowledge, Practice, and Culture (Editor's Introduction). Spontaneous Generations 4(1) 1-7.
(Sole author and editor of special issue.)
Open journal link

To one side of the wide third-floor hallway of Victoria College, just outside the offices of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, lies the massive carcass of a 1960s-era electron microscope. Its burnished steel carapace has lost its gleam, but the instrument is still impressive for its bulk and spare design: binocular viewing glasses, beam control panel, specimen tray, and a broad work surface. Edges are worn, desiccated tape still feebly holds instructive reminders near control dials; this was once a workhorse in some lab. But it exists now out of time and place; like many of the scientific instruments we study, it has not been touched by knowing hands in decades.

The microscope in the hallway of the IHPST is a metaphor for the place of instruments in science studies. They are of central interest, but they do not really have their own place. Science studies, owing to roots in the history of ideas, conceptual and textual analysis, and ethnography, sometimes struggles to do justice to material things. It is no wonder we so often speak of instruments as theories instantiated, as inscription devices, or as actors in a network–that is, as extensions or modifications of things we already know how to study. But instruments are not those things, and treating them as such could distort our understanding of instruments and their role in science.

Record, Isaac. 2009. Review of Daniel Rothbart. Philosophical Instruments: Minds and Tools at Work. Spontaneous Generations 3(1) 233-235.
(Sole author)
Open journal link

This slim volume contains much that is suggestive, but little that is substantive. This is unfortunate, as there is need of a sustained analysis of the epistemology of instruments.

Record, Isaac. 2008. Frankenstein in Lilliput: Science at the Nanoscale (Editor's Introduction). Spontaneous Generations 2(1) 22-24.
(Sole author)
Open journal link

Since Robert Hooke published Micrographia, scientists have been expanding the boundaries of science to new scales, giving rise to questions about epistemology and ontology and challenging perceptions of objectivity, life, and artifact. Recent developments in areas such as nanotechnology and synthetic life have not only pushed these boundaries, but have called their very existence into question. In this issue, Spontaneous Generations examines science at the nanoscale from ten perspectives.

Record, Isaac and Andrew Munro. 2008. Review of Paul E. Ceruzzi. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tyson's Corner, 1945-2005. Spontaneous Generations 2(1) 251-253.
(Equal co-authors)
Open journal link

Internet Alley is much more a book about regional history than about politics, economics, or history of technology, yet it draws extensively on all of these fields. The book is stronger for its interdisciplinarity, but as a result does not sit comfortably within any traditional historical discourse. Historians of science or technology not dealing with northern Virginia in the twentieth century will find little of help in this book.