Reaction to The Critical Engineering Manifesto

From The Critical Engineering Manifesto:

9. The Critical Engineer notes that written code expands into social and psychological realms, regulating behaviour between people and the machines they interact with. By understanding this, the Critical Engineer seeks to reconstruct user-constraints and social action through means of digital excavation.

This statement explains how Critical Engineers view the power of digital technologies. Although code, on its surface, is merely a piece of writing, it’s implications reach beyond a terminal’s function and into the functioning of people’s everyday lives – particularly their behaviors and relationships. Technology has the power to influence people: the way they move, the way the act, the way they think, and the way they feel. Critical Engineers understand that a device’s program determines how a user interacts with it, with other devices, and with other people.

The entire Manifesto reads as a bit conceited, implying that technologies (machines) are the most powerful resources of society, and that Critical Engineers play the most important role in using machines to shape society and individuals. Unfortunately I agree that technology can be a huge influencer of people, and that those who create technology can work to control the consequences and reactions from the use of the technology. Though, I wouldn’t choose to word it in such a self-centered and power-loving tone as this Manifesto does.

One example that comes to mind in relation to this Manifesto point is how Engineers program voice-controlled devices. For example, whether to use command language or casual language as the source of interaction with a device is an important decision and affects how people feel about the device and can affect how they speak to other people as a result of this type of interaction. Using short, impersonal commands to speak to your phone may not hurt it’s feelings, but that same interaction style can cause problematic relationship between humans if carried over into social interactions. On the other hand, naming the voice on the phone “Siri” gives a more human feel to the interaction, but at the end of the day the phone is a phone and do we want to encourage personal relationships between humans and machines?

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