Friday, October 19, 2012

DASER, October 18, 2012

This was another interesting DASER. This month was part 2 of a discussion of the humans and their interactions with machines. Some people think we may be headed to a future as cyborgs -- beings that are part computer and part human.

Cyborgs may eventually come into existence along with a cyborg culture. I wonder, though, what such a culture will look like. Star Trek: The Next Generation included such a culture in their stories. They presented the Borg, though, as bad creatures who were enemies of contemporary humans, eager to take in new species and make them live in certain ways.

I've started making the point in public that we need more open minded, well rounded generalists in our society and we need to listen to them better. I will admit that I am one such person. That clearly influences my thinking -- along with the failures of specialists in some pretty basic ways. When doctors kill patients because they make bad mistakes when they are very sleep deprived or when engineers kill astronauts by making bad decisions when they are exhausted argues for more open people to be involved in such fields, influencing decisions in fundamental ways.

I wonder what reactions my comments will have.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interesting Correlation

I've known for some time that Presidents Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter were both engineers. Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post wrote an interesting review of Jimmy Carter's White House Diaries titled Engineer of his own defeat: Jimmy Carter's "White House Diary". He makes the interesting point that Carter was rigid and humorless. Engineers like to describe themselves as "serious" and "professional." Some like to add "hard working."

I've learned since that review appeared in 2010 that GE CEO Jack Welch earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1960. Thirty years after that this "professional" was discouraging the rising generation from careers in engineering by firing thousands of GE engineers.

Most recently I learned -- starting with a Facebook post -- that all of the leaders of the Soviet Union between Stalin and Gorbachev were also professional engineers. Hmm. Quite a few people view the Soviet Union as a disaster.

Then we have the investigation of the Columbia Space Shuttle Accident by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. That report is rather damning.

Today we have NASA Administrator Bolden saying in public that people should not criticize NASA. Apparently he doesn't understand the Challenger and Columbia investigations, to name just two.

What we have here are various versions of what those of us more familiar with human behavior would call authoritarian cultures behaving dysfunctionally. That's fairly normal, alas, with highly authoritarian cultures. Authority can help a society -- but only if it is kept with democratic limits.

I've started saying engineers can contribute in lots of healthy ways to humanity. It seems, though, that current engineers need supervision by people who are more well rounded and open. We'd send engineers home at reasonable times to get the rest that all humans need. That would prevent things like the Challenger launch decision.

I'm trying to keep this brief. Even this is longer than many posts I see on blogs I look at.