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Beyond EngineeringHow Society Shapes Technology$
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Robert Pool

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780195107722

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195107722.001.0001

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Technical Fixes, Technological Solutions

Technical Fixes, Technological Solutions

(p.279) Nine Technical Fixes, Technological Solutions
Beyond Engineering

Robert Pool

Oxford University Press

The past couple of decades have been a confusing, frustrating period for engineers. With their creations making the world an ever richer, healthier, more comfortable place, it should have been a time of triumph and congratulation for them. Instead, it has been an era of discontent. Even as people have come to rely on technology more and more, they have liked it less. They distrust the machines that are supposedly their servants. Sometimes they fear them. And they worry about the sort of world they are leaving to their children. Engineers, too, have begun to wonder if something is wrong. It is not simply that the public doesn’t love them. They can live with that. But some of the long-term costs of technology have been higher than anyone expected: air and water pollution, hazardous wastes, the threat to the Earth’s ozone layer, the possibility of global warming. And the drumbeat of sudden technological disaster over the past twenty years is enough to give anyone pause: Three Mile Island, Bhopal, the Challenger, Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, the downing of a commercial airliner by a missile from the U.S.S. Vincennes. Is it time to rethink our approach to technology? Some engineers believe that it is. In one specialty after another, a few prophets have emerged who argue for doing things in a fundamentally new way. And surprisingly, although these visionaries have focused on problems and concerns unique to their own particular areas of engineering, a single underlying theme appears in their messages again and again: Engineers should pay more attention to the larger world in which their devices will function, and they should consciously take that world into account in their designs. Although this may sound like a simple, even a self-evident, bit of advice, it is actually quite a revolutionary one for engineering. Traditionally, engineers have aimed at perfecting their machines as machines. This can be seen in the traditional measures of machines: how fast they are, how much they can produce, the quality of their output, how easy they are to use, how much they cost, how long they last.

Keywords:   Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor, Bhopal disaster, Chernobyl accident, Du Pont, General Electric (GE), Nuclear Regulatory Commission, PIUS reactor, Taylorjohn, Union Carbide

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