By Matt A.
This class, Engineering for Social Change, has been a great opportunity for me to look at the intersection of engineering, philanthropy, and social justice. The class has presented material covering a range of topics from automation, to 3D printing, and alternative waste treatment methods. While the range of topics has been diverse, one theme has strung them all together.
To me, this course is all about the impact of technology on our society. I found that we addressed this topic from two viewpoints. One, how has technology helped society in the past and how can it help in the future? Two, what are the unintended consequences of new technologies and how might they be hurting society? Both angles reveal some fascinating things going on in the world. We touched on how 3D printing is leading to huge advancements in affordable prosthetics. However, we had to then confront the reality that so too is it enabling the production of cheap, illegal parts for guns. Likewise, with automation, our group discussed how new technologies may enable many people to do their jobs far more effectively and be freed from mundane tasks. Yet, we had to also discuss the fact that automation may lead to an increased income gap and put many out of work. This balance of advancement and unforeseen consequences composes the nature of our development as humans today.
On top of this learning, we were able to integrate a large scale discussion and study of how philanthropy can tie into engineering and technology. Through the process of searching for nonprofits and ultimately awarding a grant to an organization that is using engineering to cause positive social change, we were able to gain an understanding of the work being done in this space. We saw how technology can be implemented in systematic ways to help people and solve problems in our society.
I think it is remarkably important for engineers to be exposed to coursework and learning such as this. As engineers, we help implement new technologies into the world. Our coursework tends to focus on evaluating technical feasibility and maybe, to branch out, some financial considerations. It is easy to form a sort of tunnel vision which can not see past these factors when no where in our education are we challenged to stop and ask, “but how will this affect society?” If we really wish to have a positive impact on the world, it’s crucial to ask not just, “will this work?” or “will this sell?” but, “how might this impact the world around me for good and bad?” The day when these questions become ingrained into the minds of our world’s engineers is the day that we will begin to see the thoughtful integration of inventions into our overall system in a way we never have before.