On Malfunctioning Software

22 Pages Posted: 7 May 2021

See all articles by Luciano Floridi

Luciano Floridi

Yale University - Digital Ethics Center; University of Bologna- Department of Legal Studies

Nir Fresco

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Giuseppe Primiero

Middlesex University

Date Written: December 3, 2014


Artefacts do not always do what they are supposed to do, due to a variety of reasons, including manufacturing problems, poor maintenance, and normal wear-and-tear. Since software is an artefact, it should be subject to malfunctioning in the same sense in which other artefacts can malfunction. Yet, whether software is on a par with other artefacts when it comes to malfunctioning crucially depends on the abstraction used in the analysis. We distinguish between “negative” and “positive” notions of malfunction. A negative malfunction, or dysfunction, occurs when an artefact token either does not (sometimes) or cannot (ever) do what it is supposed to do. A positive malfunction, or misfunction, occurs when an artefact token may do what is supposed to do but, at least occasionally, it also yields some unintended and undesirable effects. We argue that software, understood as type, may misfunction in some limited sense, but cannot dysfunction. Accordingly, one should distinguish software from other technical artefacts, in view of their design that makes dysfunction impossible for the former, while possible for the latter.

Keywords: Artefact, Design, Dysfunction, Function, Misfunction, Software

Suggested Citation

Floridi, Luciano and Fresco, Nir and Primiero, Giuseppe, On Malfunctioning Software (December 3, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3839344 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3839344

Luciano Floridi (Contact Author)

Yale University - Digital Ethics Center ( email )

85 Trumbull Street
New Haven, CT CT 06511
United States
2034326473 (Phone)

University of Bologna- Department of Legal Studies ( email )

Via Zamboni 22
Bologna, Bo 40100

HOME PAGE: http://www.unibo.it/sitoweb/luciano.floridi/en

Nir Fresco

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905

Giuseppe Primiero

Middlesex University

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

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