<click on me to go home

Posts /

Too Much Tech?

01 Jul 2020

I am a believer in engineering. I believe in the principle of coming across a problem, thinking and discussing the problem, and developing solutions to them. However, there’s a factor of engineering that is incredibly hard to take into consideration: how will our solutions look like in the real world? Engineering is used to solve problems. Coal burning was used to generate energy that other systems in society could use, which advanced society. But how was Britain to know that it could cause so much environmental damage? Are we supposed to expect that of our engineers? I ask this because engineering is generally practiced with positive intentions. But the fact of the matter is that all of our actions have consequences, and sometimes it can be almost impossible to predict those consequences.

I’m going to talk about two things today: the new age of computers, and transit oriented development (and whatever I think of in between).

The Age of Information has brought about so much incredible progress to the sciences, building connected systems around the world, and everyday life. I, personally, don’t remember a time without the personal computer (I was born in 1999). The majority of the world is connected through smartphones, and people are now able to keep up with their family and friends from around the globe, and get information and news almost whenever they want. But the same technology that gives us these powers also burden us with a new set of unique problems. The mass production of computers and phones has led to a disastrous amount of e-waste, which is much more complex to destroy than other wastes. Additionally, access to more of these energy-consuming devices leads to more energy-consuming societies. Artificial intelligence, which has gained an unreal amount of hype in the recent years, can bring so many great technological developments to our society. But it also costs our environment a lot to do so.. Training machine learning models calls for huge amounts of computational power, which in turn requires lots of energy (which is still not entirely clean) on top of generating lots of electronic waste.

Once again, we’ve developed amazing technology which may harm the environment. While I’m glad there is increasing recognition of this problem, including a $2 Billion Pledge Fund for sustainable technologies by Amazon, the fact of the matter is that we have done so much harm to our environment with our solutions, and we are likely to keep doing more. From here I would like to raise two rhetorical questions that have been on my mind regarding this situation.

  1. With all these irreparable changes we’ve made to our environments, at what point do we stop trying to revert our Earth to the past image we’ve had of it, and instead imagine and design an entirely new society?
  2. If new technologies solve old problems but create new ones, are there cases where we should opt instead for our original set of problems, and simply accept that reality? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I would love to talk about some of these. Maybe I’ll add a comment section to these posts.

Now, transit oriented development (TOD). I was recently introduced to this idea, and added to a Facebook meme page on it (I know, definitely the most intellectual medium). Transit oriented development is a framework in urban planning for designing cities that have lots of walkable space that can easily access public transport, eliminating the need for personal automobiles and therefore is more sustainable. I saw this animated video on that meme page, which pits J. Walker, a TOD advocate, against the “technocratic Mr. Husk”, who is obviously inspired by Elon Musk. The video villainizes Mr. Husk for advocating for and developing efficient personal automobiles, leaving the Earth in shambles and escaping to his colony on Mars. I acknowledge that developing more efficient automobiles makes it easier on the conscience to use them, and therefore perpetuates the usage of personal automobiles, which require generated energy, regardless of how efficient they are. As an engineer, I believe that Musk’s promotion of solar energy and development of battery technology are good for making society more efficient and wean us off the usage of dirtier energy technologies. However, I believe the point of the video is that in this case, it is not better to engineer new technology to solve our problems, and instead, we must redesign what we have to tackle these problems. This goes back to the second rhetorical question I posed above; should we be focusing our energy on engineering ourselves out of our current problems and take on new ones, or is it better to find other solutions without generating new technology?

I don’t know what the solutions are to create better realities for ourselves without destroying ourselves in the process. We have changed the Earth so much since evolving from apes. But have we created and relied on too much tech for our own good? I sure hope not.

Sidenote: I think I’m going to change up the way I’m addressing this blog. I’m not a teacher; I am forever a student, learning and thinking and adapting my frames of view. This is really just a compilation of my thoughts, which are not fixed, and therefore is not material for teaching, but rather, discussing. When I write, I feel like I’m having a fireside chat. So…

See you by the fire.