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Do We Control Technology or Does Technology Control Us?

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Innovations in Promoting Technological Literacy II

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.476.1 - 25.476.11



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Paper Authors


J. Douglass Klein Union College

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J. Douglass Klein is the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics at Union College. Klein joined the Union faculty in 1979, after earning a B.A. in mathematics at Grinnell College and a M.A. and Ph.D. in economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. At Union College, he has held several administrative positions, including most recently, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies, and from 2008-2011 served as Co-chair of the Symposium on Engineering and Liberal Education. His research is in the areas of energy, the economics of auctions, the measurement of efficiency, and the integration of engineering and liberal arts. He has recently developed and team-taught with an engineering faculty member, a new interdisciplinary course “Energy: How Much is Enough?”

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Do We Control Technology, or Does Technology Control Us?ABSTRACT: William Wulf, former President of the National Academy of Engineering, hassuggested that the use of tools is what defines us as human. Might technology also be a geniethat once released, humans are powerless to return to its bottle? In short, is technologydeterministic and now evolving on its own?This paper describes a course for a mixed group of first-year engineering and liberal artsstudents, designed to explore the history and future of the human-technology relationship. It willintroduce students to the social context in which technology operates, will illustrate ethicalconsiderations related to technology, and will entail intensive practice in developing criticalreading and writing skills.From the classical myth of Prometheus to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to IBM’s Watsoncomputer and beyond, the course explores the relationship between technology and progress,technology and happiness, and technology and human freedom. This paper (and the course)offers contrasting views of what drives technology forward and toward what end.In 1959, C.P. Snow lamented the breakdown in communication between the Two Cultures:humanities and science/technology. Before and since then, philosophers, artists, and socialscientists have frequently expressed views about technology, but often in reactive ways, whilescientists and engineers continue to discover, design and deploy new technologies. The coursedescribed promotes a proactive dialog.Today it may often seem as though we have lost control of technology, but today’s students maywell live to see the time when technology actually begins to create itself and take control – in theprocess, reshaping what it means to be human. The question, especially important for today’sstudents, is will we control technology, or will technology control us?

Klein, J. D. (2012, June), Do We Control Technology or Does Technology Control Us? Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21234

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