This talk will probably make you a bit angry. You might be upset with some of Mitch Altman’s views or his hyperbole in describing them. Or you might be upset because you totally agree with his views and feel the same disappointment he does with many (ab)uses of technology. Either way, the point of his talk, which was given at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, is that we all should think deeply about what we choose to do with our time and our talents. Consider yourself challenged.
The video below is packed full of colorful ideas, along with some colorful language. Let’s take a look.
Technology Just Is
Does technology have an inherent meaning designed right into it? Of course not. Mitch looks at “technology” as a set of tools that can be used as you see fit. The thing that changes is the cultural context in which these tools are put to use. This isn’t a new concept for the Hackaday community — after all, that hot plate and that fish pump weren’t originally designed to make their way into your basement SMD assembly line.
What happens when you design tools that end up being used for activities you don’t agree with? It’s a topic that has been bubbling to the surface of the tech world for some time. You may remember Google employees leaving the company over machine learning projects they contributed to being used in military drone applications. The problem is that these engineers expected a different cultural context for their work. We can guess that many of them signed up to work on image recognition aimed at self-driving cars. They expected their work to make the roads safer for everyone involved. Mitch draws the line when the tech is used to take lives, or support the taking of lives. Where do you?
It’s Your Choice, You Should Choose to Make It
You will spend a significant portion of your life working. It’s worth spending time asking yourself what meaning your work has for you and for others. Have you considered the ethics of the work? And have you reviewed these values and ethics as your career progresses? Not doing so is, for instance, how Volkswagen diesel scandal took place.
Through his decades of work on everything from virtual reality and network storage controllers to teaching learn-to-solder classes and building one tv remote to turn off all, Mitch has chosen to apply his values to the decisions he makes in who to work for and what customers to work with. His decisions come down to doing what he loves and making choices that let him continuing to do what he loves. It’s a good example to learn from. The first step in achieving your goals is know what you want, and for that we can all benefit from a little introspection.