Do engineers have a responsibility to make the world a better place? Or should we just focus on getting the job done?
Last week I read that mobile phone operators are counting on developing markets for their continuing growth. The success of mobile phones in these countries is an amazing phenomenon. In some developing countries, mobile phones are more common than land-line phones.
And it's not just the mobile phone operators who are benefiting from the spread of cellular technology. The citizens of these developing countries are also coming out ahead. For example, a cell phone can also help a farmer check prices in nearby markets, which helps the farmer maximize profits. A cell phone can also serve as a substitute for a bank, an important feature when much of the population has no access to banks, cash machines, or credit cards.
As a DSP guy, I'm proud that signal processing technology is improving the lives of the world's poor. But I am also a bit ashamed that this is happening as an afterthought. The buzz in the cell phone industry is all about enjoying TV shows and music on the go. There is nothing wrong with being entertained, but is this really the best way for us to spend limited engineering resources? Or should we be putting more effort into making the world a better place?
I have to admit that I'm torn on this question. On one hand it seems like we engineers have a responsibility to use our talents wisely. On the other hand, it is hard to predict the impact of new technologies. I wouldn't have guessed that cell phones would become essential in developing nations, for example. So maybe we should just focus on building good technology without worrying too much about the social consequences.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Stop by the forum and let me know your view.