I was there at the Boston Common at the march form science. I was one among the thousands in support of Science and its vital role in our way of life. I could not agree more with all that I saw and heard. Yet, one poster got my attention the most:
MAKE AMERICA THINK AGAIN!
Every one who truly believes in Science have to step back and think hard on the cause – why we are here marching for Science? It requires analytical thinking and not merely repeating the slogans or expressing anger against one or the other. Science as it was explained by one speaker requires hypothesis, its validation through data leading to conclusions that help us progress or at least better understand the problem we have on hand. Let us practice this thought process on a few of our problems we face today.
Global warming is indeed a problem. It started when China and India started consuming energy in larger quantities. Their means and methods for energy consumption and the emissions are not new. They rely on the same practiced in the Western world for decades.
How did this explosive energy consumption come to be? It started with off shored manufacturing to produce lower cost goods for the Western world. This local economic activity in developing nations was followed by their consuming the same goods – such as automobiles and energy – in larger quantities. The collective effect of all these is more pollution and emissions and global warming.
The scientists and their supporters who marched yesterday can make a commitment that they will buy only products made through clean energy- no matter where they are manufactured – even if it costs a little more. It is the demand of this consuming public and their sacrifice that will push the politicians and business leaders to switch towards solutions leading to a reduction in global warming? Corporations move and make the right decision only when they are impacted at their pocket book.
But, what technology enabled the off shore manufacturing in droves? One would have to conclude the developments in Digital Technology – internet, e-mail, communication services and Digital data and information processing – and their indiscriminate deployment as one among the enablers. Global capitalism was the intended consequence; Global warming is the unintended consequence.
Recently I was speaking with an engineer implementing an automation project using robotics. I asked him, why are you doing this project? His response without hesitation was “I want to eliminate jobs”. I ventured to ask him if he would do this project if it eliminated the job of his friends, family members or neighbors. He seemed amazed at that question. He responded, “My boss wanted me to do this job”!
Every scientist and STEM worker need to understand causality of the growing economic disparity. Developments in Digital Technology (DT) applied without discrimination leads to smart machines with the potential to marginalize human contributions. Contributions of workers through their cognitive skills, their ability to process information as well as through their physical labor. three pathways for human dignity through work are being challenged today.
Any society with meaningful employment and broad economic prosperity is the employer as well as the consumer. Everyone who marched for Science must come to grip with this reality (i.e.) their developments in Digital Technology must be channeled for the benefit of all, not for the benefit of a few at the exclusion of the many.
One cannot be in support of Science without also being responsible for the larger scope of their work and consequences of their own actions. This responsibility squarely falls on the shoulders of the leaders in Science community. During the march I informally polled a few to see what they understood as “Technology”. Every one gave similar general answers such as something good for the society, where science plays a key role, etc. Then I asked them if I give you $100,000 what stocks will you buy? Every one instinctively said Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. Nobody mentioned GE, P&W, Caterpillar or even Dell or HP! Every scientist needs to ask why is this preference?
Over the past decades the society has begun to accept Digital Technology as the “Technology”. The true meaning of Technology as the integrated outcome of Science, its application (Engineering) and effective exploitation of such use (Management) has been lost in the public discourse. Developments in the field of Nuclear Science are called “Nuclear Technology”. Developments in the field of polymers and plastics are called “Polymer Technology”; Innovation in space exploration is called “Space Technology”. But we obsessively refer to DT as the technology. Then we fail to recognize the developments in DT that preponderantly favor a few workers and their efforts to automate cognitive work and leave majority of citizens of zero economic value.
When thought leaders discuss the societal needs they describe “innovations through Technology” as the savior of the future. Implication here is technology as derived from all fields of sciences and not limited to DT. But when it comes to decision making and risk taking Digital Technology is favored depressing the effect and impact of all other science based technologies. The ills in the abuse of the DT are brushed aside as they are not identified as such.
Society has disdain for the widespread use of Nuclear Technology because of the fear it instills in the mind of the many despite its many positive uses and potentials. But the abusive role of DT enabled smart machines that promote indiscriminate off shoring of processes using energy inefficient and ecologically ill-fated outcomes are not openly addressed. The potential of DT enabled solutions to marginalize human contributions, automating all forms of work (i.e.) Physical, information and cognitive work and leaving society with large swath of citizens without any economic value is not yet fully appreciated and baked into the thinking and planning of thought leaders, large majority of whom are the “Science and engineering” workers.
The role of DT to spread hate and foster home grown terrorists is not met head on. The recent mishap in Facebook and the mild apology from Mr. Zuckerberg is another dimension to this pitfall of the unbridled use of DT. Instead of addressing them head on, they are brushed aside under fallacy and illogical arguments claiming first amendment rights and free speech. An eclectic circuit without proper protection will never be allowed for use by broad public. There are no such restrictions for faulty DT circuits.
Scientists and Engineers cannot merely march and expect solutions to be developed by economists and politicians. They need to start thinking as managers and solution providers and on their own personal roles and through their jobs, projects and outputs that impact the broader issues. Every scientist needs to think as an engineer and a manager and a leader. They cannot wait for someone else to fix the ills of DT dominated society.
Let us Make America Think Again!