19 December 2016

Worth Reading

Rogue One: an "Engineering Ethics" story (many spoilers) provides a very thoughtful analysis of engineering ethics. One spoiler free blurb:
Engineering and technology can critically define how people live and who has power. Philosopher of technology Langdon Winner’s article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” argues that technology changes the world around them, creating policies and politics that result from the inherent (at times destructive) characteristics of the technology. Yet, it is not only the technology of advanced weapons that can shape our world. Social media and increased computer devices are affecting how humans think and how we act in a democratic society. An engineer must consider not only the function of a new system, but how it will be used and the possible unintended consequences. . . .

A complementary point to Winner is to think through how we have to labor to maintain existing systems. Historians Andy Russell and Lee Vinsel have started a social movement called The Maintainers, which tries to call attention to the neglected role of maintenance in society. While the Star Wars universe has a lot of ships and cities that look like they’re in a state of dystopic disrepair, there are also many who scavenge . . . and make the most out of existing systems.. A robust discussion of engineering ethics should consider how we treat the people and technological systems that maintain the broader society.
Another important issue that engineers are particularly prone to is what linguists called nerdview, which basically means designing user interfaces from the perspective of a design in a manner that is counterproductive or futile to an actual user in need of information. Another good example is here.

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