1. The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision.
Dependency is something we all expect from great engineering. Products and brands are often built on upholding a reputation for being dependable (think Volkswagen or Dyson). In many ways I think this tenant speaks to the very core of what it means to be an engineer; someone who enjoys nothing more than the thrill of building, optimizing and enhancing new technology.
The engineer must be a studious and critical practitioner. Just as a doctor must constantly keep up with advances in medicine, so must the engineer with advances in technology. The greater the dependence on technology, the more responsibility is placed on the engineer to make that technology dependable.
But at what point does the shift from “dependable technology” to “depending on technology” occur? Is it dangerous to depend on technology? We rely on electricity to power our cities, clean water to run through our taps, and hard drives to secure our data. I would argue that unless each of us are entirely self sufficient, a deep reliance on technology is normal.
This reminds me a quote by the founders of a design firm called Industrial Facility – Sam Hecht and Kim Colin. They say “[London] has many layers of systems in place, but nothing really quite works. [We] are just on the edge of functioning. If one thing goes wrong…could be the tube one day, could be another system another day…its a very fragile system.”
More so than anything, I think this tenant calls on the engineer to be critical of what it ok to depend on and what is not. When will it be ok to store all of our personal data on the “cloud?” And can the engineer play a part in shaping our behavior toward something more reliable and safe?