What the Digital Humanities Needs to Learn from Turbotax

On June 9, 2010, Wired.com ran a story announcing the intention of DARPA, the experimental research arm of the United States Department of Defense, to create “mission planning software” based on the popular tax-filing software, Turbotax.

What fascinated the DoD was that Turbotax “encoded” a high level of knowledge expertise into its software allowing people with “limited knowledge of [the] tax code” to negotiate successfully the complex tax-filing process that “would otherwise require an expert-level” of training (Shachtman). DARPA wanted to bring the power of  complex “mission planning” to the average solider who might not have enough time/expertise to make the best decision possible for the mission.

I start with this example to show that arcane realms of expertise, such as the U.S. Tax Code, can be made accessible to the general public through sound interface design and careful planning. This is especially pertinent to Digital Humanities scholars who do not always have the computer-science training of other disciplines but still rely on databases, repositories, and other computer-mediated environments to do their work. This usually means that humanities scholars spend hours having awkward phone conversations with technical support or avoid computer-mediated environments altogether. [read more…]

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