"0. The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence."
The way that we interact and communicate with our surroundings and the things we create, are built from how we understand the world around us. That understanding comes from a place of exploration and questioning, and those explorations and questions in turn transform and develop our understandings. The role of the "critical engineer" is to explore those questions, why we have those questions, and through this process present the findings that further transform out language of understanding.
The circular system of finding and questioning pertains to the development/'engineering' of the technological systems that we have, creating new possibilities and abilities to function within, which in turn pose new questions from the technologies and developments that were previously not-imagined. Its this process that continues to push advancements both in the 'tech' classical engineering field and in creative practices.
0. The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.
In my interpretation of this tenant, it explains that Engineering is evolving and a huge influence and part of human nature (or the Critical Engineer). I found it interesting because it compares Engineering to a "language" which is a form of communication and expression (it is a human quality term). This tenant claims that Engineering is the most transformative language, pretty much stating that the human nature/curiosity to explore and create new things is very strong. It highlights the interaction between the human, and the tool/creation the human is using (like cars, or even shows to walk in). It also brings up the increasing public knowledge of new technology (like how Leone Battista Alberti challenged the past views of art which prompted the pre-renaissance which allowed the public to be more involved and knowledgeable in art). I think that this tenant shows how humans are technology are closely woven together, and as humans progress, so does Engineering (there is always a human quality).
3. The Critical Engineer deconstructs and incites suspicion of rich user experiences.
The third tenant informs how Critical Engineers often raise doubts and question the level of validity and credibility when user experiences become too rich, too seamless, and too, for lack of better words, "perfect" -- said in an eerily utopian way. I found this to be particularly interesting because, as a society, we want our products to work in absolute harmony with us; the more integrated, attuned, smart and intuitive our devices and systems are with us, the more we expect such flawless services, and the more we rely and are satisfied with them. In many cases, a flawless user experience is the "norm" to be expected, and it is only when such a service is failed to provide that we take note of the bad design actually being presented.
Many forms of services, products, and systems that we engage with and encounter today are more often than not, heavily entwined with thought out user experience -- from niched and developed VR experiences, to engaging with everyday platforms such as social media. Whereas there is still a somewhat clear distinction in how a digital VR world differs from the actual world experience, this line can easily blur and become confused with the real world -- akin to how we engage with social media platforms today. There is an upwards trend in becoming a content creator, and as more and more users engage with such role and influence, it becomes more difficult to distinguish what stories, informations, and experiences are true to nature, and what others are merely fabrications and/or replicas.
- "The Critical Engineer expands "machine" to describe interrelationships encompassing devices, bodies, agents, forces and networks."
Tenet six, essentially claims that a "Critical Engineer" expands the notion of a "machine" beyond its particular physical manifestation and function (and certainly beyond the abstracted sense of "a machine") and understands and seeks to highlight that its existence requires and is inscribed by several other material and social factors. For example, when personal computers were first being disseminated into the wider public, engineers had to find a way to make them accessible to an unfamiliar, unspecialized public. How, for instance, could they get amateur or professional writers (accustomed to pen, paper, typewriter and desk) to convert to a digital writing platform? Some early word-processors and desktop interfaces chose to adopt the features of their analog predecessors (i.e. Microsoft Bob). Basically, these engineers had to understand that these "machines" had to be translated to accommodate (and slowly adjust) existing social, cultural, and material norms-they certainly did not exist in some vacuum.
8. The Critical Engineer looks to the history of art, architecture, activism, philosophy and invention and finds exemplary works of Critical Engineering. Strategies, ideas and agendas from these disciplines will be adopted, re-purposed and deployed.
I think this is this the most important tenet of this manifesto because if we continue to function in a society where computation is becoming more and more relevant, the way we approach exploring computation should draw techniques from every discipline. In the same way Leah Buechley argues to change the way STEM subjects are taught, the critical engineer repurposes ideas from different disciplines.
4. The Critical Engineer looks beyond the "awe of implementation" to determine methods of influence and their specific effects.
I resonate with this tenet a lot especially because we are in a time when we are surrounded by more and more technology. We often hear about how technology advancement brings positive change to their daily life, but fails to realize the possible negative consequences of our abuse of the technology.
One great example is the rise of big data and machine learning. The rise of extremism recent year could be seen as a direct but highly ignored consequence of such comfort. When AI knows our political preferences and only caters to our preferences, we are pushed more and more to the extreme and thus an invisible wall is created that stop us from hearing different voices. While big data and machine learning brings more personalization to our daily life and create a much more effortless living environment, we are at the same time more and more confined in our comfort zone.
I selected tenet number 5, "The Critical Engineer recognizes that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user's dependency upon it."
This means that engineers and their engineering projects form a sort of symbiotic relationship, both relying on each other and making each other better. The first thing I thought of when I read this tenet was Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, in a way relating to engineers and their work, where both have an equivalent effect on one another. One example of this is machine learning. In machine learning, humans program a machine to perform some tasks, and learn from each of those tasks so that is builds a basic form of AI and is able to accomplish much more difficult tasks independently. Eventually, the machine will be able to teach the human (the creator) how to do those tasks, which illustrates this dependent relationship.
Critical Engineering Manifesto, Tenet 4: "The Critical Engineer looks beyond the 'awe of implementation' to determine methods of influence and their specific effects."
I take this tenet to mean basically "Don't believe the hype." Especially in the tech industry, there's an almost religious obsession with new products and new systems (blockchain, cryptocurrency, machine learning, VR, quantum computing, etc.). Often, despite the novelty of these inventions, the applications they are used for quickly become cliche, and the tech becomes much more important than the project.
I'm glad that I found this advice, and I hope to follow it. I want to be sure that each creative project that I do has a purpose beyond trying out a new piece of technology. I'm also interested in the second half of this tenet; they emphasize influence strongly as if it is the most important aspect of a project. I definitely want to consider influence more, but I don't know if I feel like it should be the top priority.
"2: The Critical Engineer raises awareness that with each technological advance our techno-political literacy is challenged."
As expressed in this tenet, it is the role of the Critical Engineer to consider how new technology inevitably influences society in relation to law and politics. As advancing technology continues to expand our capabilities, the methods in which we handle data collection, privacy, and personal information must be repeatedly reevaluated. The progression of geolocation tech, for example, advances us towards a world in which anyone can be located and identified at any time. Subsequently, it's our responsibility to assert that our code of conduct relating to privacy and PII change accordingly. By our further advancement of technology, we must look beyond the scope of the project to consider the sociopolitical effects.
The eighth tenet of the Critical Engineering Manifesto describes how a Critical Engineer should draw from the past. They should look at themselves as continuing the same kind of work as artists, philosophers, activists, and inventors of yore, and they should learn from those people. They should learn from the strategies they used, as well as their goals. It's interesting that a seemingly radical movement should be also backwards facing. It sees value in what was done in the past even though the things it is responding to are so specific to our present circumstances.
For instance, a Critical Engineer could look at the ways modernists artists were responding to the introduction of machines into factories during the 19th century for how to respond today to automation in the workplaces of today.