Philosophy and Ethics of Appropriate Technology phil 164

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Philosophy and Ethics of Appropriate Technology PHIL 164

  • Howard University
  • Departments of Philosophy, Biology and Sociology and Anthropology
  • College of Arts and Science
  • Departments of Chemical, Civil and Electrical Engineering, and Systems and Computer Sciences
  • College of Engineering, Architecture and Computer Sciences
  • Fall 2004 Semester
  • Course Facilitators:
  • Charles Verharen, PhD (Professor of Philosophy)
  • Marcel Castro, (PhD Candidate, Electrical Engineering)
  • John Tharakan, PhD (Professor of Chemical Engineering)
  • John Trimble, PhD (Professor of Systems and Computer Sciences)
  • Taft Broome, PhD (Professor of Civil Engineering)
  • David Schwartzman, PhD (Professor of Biology)
  • Bruce Dahlin, PhD (Professor of Sociology)
  • Brian Stephenson, PE (Civil Engineering)

Philosophy and Ethics of Appropriate Technology

  • Philosophy and Ethics of Appropriate Technology
  • Course Syllabus
  • Fall Semester 2004
  • Facilitator: Dr. Charles Verharen
  • Contact: -
  • Objective: The purpose of this course is to expose students of different disciplines to the technology development process and how it has been shaping our society. A special attention is going to be given to ways in which individuals can contribute to a positive change from different disciplines related to technology.
  • Description: The course will cover topics of different disciplines including: The Social Effects of Technology, Appropriate Technology, Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Engineering, Engineering Ethics, and Community Service. The subject nature is extremely interdisciplinary which makes it desirable to have a class of students with diverse backgrounds and different areas of study. The interaction between students reacting to the course material is one the most valuable outcome of the course.
  • Key Terms: Appropriate Technology, Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Engineering, Engineering Ethics, Good-Work Projects, Responsibility, Social Justice, Competition, Cooperation, Education, Revolution.
  • Topic Outline:
  • WEEK 1 (Sept. 2): Introduction to the course [Dr.Verharen/Dr.Tharakan/M.Castro]
  • Appropriate Technology in general (definitions)
  • - Journey to Forever: Appropriate Technology
  • - What is Appropriate Technology?
  • Philosophy of Technology
  • - Presumed Neutrality of Technology, by: Norman Balabanian [Controlling Technology-Thompson pp.249-264]
  • - In Praise of Technology, by: Samuel Florman [Controlling Technology-Thompson pp.148-156]
  • Is Technology Neutral?
  • - Google Search: "Is Technology Neutral"
  • Current Issues (for example)
  • - Biotechnology and terrorism
  • - Teaching Online and Virtual Education
  • What Is Appropriate Technology?
  • WEEK 2 (Sept. 9): Case Study 1: Appropriate Technology in Zimbabwe [Dr.Trimble]
  • WEEK 3 (Sept. 16): Engineering Ethics and the Ethics of Engineering [Dr.Verharen/Dr.Broom]
  • Study Cases: Engineering Ethics
  • - Ford Pinto: Pinto Madness, by: Mark Dowie (1977)
  • - The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
  • - Engineering Ethics Guide:
  • - The Case In Detail (essay):
  • - The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster:
  • - Engineers feared shuttle disaster By Ted Bridis, ASSOCIATED PRESS:
  • - Bhopal chemical plant disaster:
  • Study Cases: The Ethics of Engineering
  • - The Ruination of the Tomato, by: Mark Kramer, (1991) [Controlling Technology-Thompson pp. 131-141]
  • How to Control Technology?
  • WEEK 4 (Sept. 23): History and Philosophy of Technology [Dr. Verharen/Dr.Broome]
  • History of Science and Technology
  • - Google Search: "brief History of Technology"
  • - Google Search: "brief History of Science"
  • Philosophy of Technoogy
  • - Authoritarian and Democratic Technics, by: Lewis Mumford [Controlling Technology-Thompson pp.371-378]
  • - COMPLEXITY, TRUST AND TERROR, by:Langdon Winner (2002)
  • Philosophy of Engineering
  • - The Importance of Philosophy to Engineering, by Carl Mitcham (1998)
  • Is Technology Neutral?
  • WEEK 5 (Sept. 30): Ethics as an Experimental Science / Final Paper Description [STUDENTS]
  • WEEK 6 (Oct. 7): Appropriate Technology Projects (GoodWork Projects) [Dr.Trimble/Dr.Tharakan/Dr.Verharen]
  • Current Appropriate Technology Projects (check web links)
  • Information Technology
  • - Appropriate Information Technology; Oxfam Community Aid Abroad
  • - Appropriate Information Technology Transfer; presented by Herbert Christ, materials provided by Berthold Hansmann
  • Medical and Health applications
  • - Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
  • Energy Systems
  • - renewable energy; efficient energy use; electric and hybrid vehicles; the environment;
  • energy and environmental education; personal rights; and whistleblowing
  • - Sustainable Energy Program (NCAT)
  • Water and Sanitation
  • - International Water Management Institute
  • Appropriate Agriculture
  • - The Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First)
  • - Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (NCAT)
  • Environmental issues
  • - Waste Not; Chapter 3. of the book Natural Capitalism; by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
  • How to Apply Technology?

WEEK 7 (Oct. 14): Social Science and History Relevance

  • WEEK 7 (Oct. 14): Social Science and History Relevance
  • Historical reality of exploitation
  • UNDER-development or WRONG-development
  • - Colonialism.
  • - Neocolonialism.
  • - Corruption.
  • - Political & Economic Instability.
  • - Unequal Trade.
  • Development Alternatives
  • Social Justice Movement
  • WEEK 8 (Oct. 21): Study Case 2: Appropriate Technology Lessons from Cuba [Mr.Brian Stephenson]
  • WEEK 9 (Oct. 28): Global AT / The Integral Approach to Technology [Dr.Schwartzman]
  • - A Roadmap for Natural Capitalism; by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
  • - Ecological Economics; by Kono Matsu :
  • - Bull in a China Shop:
  • - Curriculum issues and controversies in computer ethics instruction; by: Tavani, H.T.;
  • Technology and Society, 2001. Proceedings. International Symposium on , 2001 Page(s): 41 -50
  • - Balancing technical and social issues: a new first-year design course; by: Hallinan, K.; Daniels, M.; Safferman, S.;
  • IEEE Technology and Society Magazine , Volume: 20 Issue: 1 , Spring 2001 Page(s): 4 -14
  • - Applying an interdisciplinary approach to teaching computer ethics; by: Tavani, H.T.; IEEE Technology and Society Magazine , Volume: 21 Issue: 3 , Fall 2002 Page(s): 32 -38
  • WEEK 10 (Nov. 4): Responsibility of Engineers, and Technology Developers [Dr.Trimble/Dr.Harris]
  • - Distributability Problems and Challenges to the Future Resolution of Responsibility Conflicts; by: HENS LENK, Techné: Journal of the Society for Philosophy and Technology; Summer 1998 Volume 3 Number 4
  • WEEK 11 (Nov. 11): Study Case 3: Car Industry Origins in US [Mr.Marcel Castro]
  • WEEK 12 (Nov. 18): Study Programs and Jobs Descriptions (outside lecturer)
  • WEEK 13 (Dec. 4): Presentation of Papers [STUDENTS]
  • - CONTROLLING TECHNOLOGY: Contemporary Issues; edited by: Eric Katz, Andrew Light, William Thompson, William B. Thompson
  • - Service-Learning in the Disciplines: Projects that Matter, Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Engineering, edited by: Edmund Tsang
  • - Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution; by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
  • httP://
  • - Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba Edited by: Fernando Funes, Luis García, Martin Bourque, Nilda Pérez, and Peter Rosset;
  • - Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, by: E. F. Schumacher
  • - Good Work by: E. F. Schumacher, and Peter N. Gillingham
  • - In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations by: Jerry Mander
  • - Paper Heroes: Appropriate Technology: Panacea or Pipe Dream? by: Witold Rybczynski
  • - Appropriate Technology Sourcebook: A Guide to Practical Books for Village & Small Community Technology by:Ken Darrow and Mike Saxenian
  • - Controlling Technology: Ethics & Responsible Engineer; by: Stephen H. Unger

AT: Definition

  • Appropriate technology is being mindful of what we're doing and aware of the consequences. Appropriate technology works from the bottom up; it is not an overlay to the situation; it is a genuine grassroots solution to economic needs. In the Industrial World small businesses account for more technological advances in their areas of expertise than government supported researchers or research departments in massive corporations. Third World craftspeople, farmers and other villagers invent, create, and contribute to the technological process of their area much more than outside "experts" do.
  • The idea of appropriate technology is that local people, struggling on a daily basis with their needs, understand those needs better than anyone and can therefore suggest or in fact, invent the technological innovations necessary to meet those needs. Not only that, local people can prioritize solutions to save precious funding and labor. Planners and those who want to help others grapple with food and energy problems are wise to include local people in the early stages of project vision. The result is consistency in the carry-through of the work by locals and continued maintenance and interest in the well-being of the project over the long haul.
  • While grassroots activity is vital in developing appropriate technology, a larger view is definitely called for in understanding how organizations can combine funds and human resources to develop and market technologies. Communication among international aid agencies can greatly enhance efficient use of funds for appropriate technology and a reduction of the "reinventing the wheel" syndrome.
  • The definition of "Appropriate Technology" changes with each situation. It's not appropriate to install solar modules in a place with very little sun, a wind generator in a place with little or no wind. What's appropriate in a large urban location is very different from what's appropriate in a remote, isolated environment. One quality that remains the same, however, is taking care of things. In each situation, the essence of AT remains appreciating, helping, caring. Planned obsolescence, throw-away products, poor quality all go against intelligent decision-making and the true spirit of appropriate technology.
  • - Steve Troy, Jade Mountain Inc.

So What Does “Appropriate Technology” Actually Do?

  • It meets people's real needs
  • It protects the environment for everybody
  • It uses and enhances local skills and materials and resources
  • It enables people to earn a living through knowledge transfer and capacity building: it empowers local communities
  • It is affordable
  • It’s vision is long term

Appropriate Technology: Criteria

  • Requires only small amounts of capital
  • Emphasizes use of locally available materials
  • Relatively labor intensive, not capital intensive
  • Small scale in order to be affordable to individual families.
  • Can be understood, controlled and maintained by individuals without need for high levels of training or specialized education.
  • Can be produced in villages/small shops.
  • Assumes that people will work together to improve communities.
  • Includes local communities in the innovation, modification and implementation of the technology.
  • Is adaptable and flexible: can be adapted to different places and changing circumstances.
  • Will not have adverse impact on the environment.

Appropriate Technology: Rationale

  • Permits local needs to be met more effectively as local people are involved in identifying and working to address needs.
  • Implies the development of tools that extend human labor and skills, not replace or eliminate them.
  • Represents a comprehensible and controllable scale of activities
  • Permits more economical operation as it minimzes or eliminates transportation requirements
  • Makes expensive and unavailable financial, transportation, education, advertising, management and energy services unnecessary.
  • Helps to establish a self-sustaining and expanding reservoir of skills within the community
  • Helps to reduce economic, social, political dependency.

The Development Problem

Spinning Cotton into Thread

  • The first appropriate technologist(?): “Production by the masses, not production for the masses” M.K.Gandhi
  • Context:
  • Indian Independence struggle
  • Form of real protest of, and rebellion against, British Rule
  • Motivation:
  • Need for (re)development of indigenous textile industry
  • Focal and rallying point for empowerment:Political importance of AT
  • Peasants should be the basis for economic development - MKG

Water Collection: Rainwater Harvesting

  • Catchement Area

Water Treatment: Slow Sand Filter

Water Treatment: Solar Still

Water Re-Use: Greywater Recycling

Water for Irrigation: Drip Irrigation

Water for Irrigation: Drip Irrigation by Low Cost Technologies

Does Appropriate Technology Mean Low Tech?

  • Projects:
  • Energy
    • Solar Energy
    • Energy Consumption and Development
    • Biomass
  • Technology Application
  • Land and Water Management
    • Drinking Water
    • Dryland Farming
    • “New” Agriculture
  • Food Preservation
  • Information and Communication
    • Telecommunication
    • Rural wireless net

Approaches to Development: A Systems Approach

Will Appropriate technology Work?

  • Windmills made completely of local materials – no wind.
  • Small scale aluminum utensil production – outdone by a large manufacturer.
  • Soap making – poor don’t buy soap and those that can buy name brands
  • Reasons for Failure of AT:
    • Technical: unsatisfactory performance from AT.
    • Economic: Costs may not be what developers think initially.
    • Social Issues: Social reform must be part of the AT process.

Will Appropriate technology Work?

  • Yes, BUT…
  • There are no pre-defined criteria for appropriateness:
    • it is always situation-specific.
    • Geography, culture, location, availability…
  • Cannot determined appropriateness without considering overall costs and benefits:
    • Benefits to whom?
    • Costs borne by whom?
  • Non-economic criteria play a large role in technological choice:
    • Have to be careful of institutional prejudices influencing technology choices
    • Empowerment implies technological choice is localized– a good thing!

Examples Of Successful “Appropriate” Technologies

  • Deep Well hand-pump in India
    • Maintenance and repair at the local village level
  • Oral Rehydration Therapy (Worldwide – WHO)
  • Waterpumping windmills (Argentina)
    • 60,000 units in operation
    • Design from an Aeromotor windmill (USA)
  • Bamboo reinforced rainwater storage (Thailand)
    • Built in drought prone areas
    • Family owned
  • Bamboo well sinking for tube wells (India)
    • Lower cost of tube well installation
    • Irrigation pumping applications
    • Usable with portable pumps
  • Rural access roads program (Kenya)
  • Women’s cooperative Food Processing (India)
    • Members are partners, not employees
    • $4 mill in sales (Mostly hand rolled pappadams)
  • Indigenously produced toolbar plows and carts
    • Financial return high: more land under cultivation

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