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Lectures 8 and 9.docx

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Natural Science
NATS 1700
Valeri Michkine

LECTURE 8 PART 1 OF LECTURE: THE FUTURE OF THE TRANSISTOR The transistor has and will continue to become smaller and smaller so that millions can now be placed on a silicon wafer no larger than your thumb nail. However, for a number of reasons, this reduction in size will eventually come to an end. That is, there will come a time when the laws of physics are such as to prevent/prohibit transistors from becoming any smaller. WHAT'S THE POINT IN LEARNING WHAT A TRANSISTOR IS OR WHAT IT DOES, OR HOW A CHIP IS MADE? All too often we tend to take for granted the technology that they find around them. We read books without concerning ourselves with how the books are printed. We watch television, listen to the radio, take elevators and drive our cars, heedless of the technology that allows us to do these things. Yet this was not always the case. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s people did understand what made cars run, in fact they understood it so well that the 1950s and 1960s were the hot rod era during which teenagers and adults souped up their cars, and electricians understood both how to make and how to repair circuit boards and the like. An electrician would test out the circuitry in a circuit board, find the faulty diode or transistor and replace it ] Back then cars were more simple in their design as were the circuit boards that made electronic equipment run. Today's cars are full of microchips that control engine function; gasoline consumption, light systems; diagnostics and more, some much so that we cannot put them together ourselves, nor can we repair them as before. Perhaps our apathy or complacency towards understanding how our present day devices function is directly related to the sheer complexity of their design. That is: as the technology behind a device becomes more complex, so our apathy towards how it works increases. Perhaps also, the longer we have a device around, the more familiar it becomes to us and the less apt we are to want to know how it works or, for that matter, the less apt we are to care. In its simplest from Technology Apathy or Complacency can be thought of as a blind faith in or acceptance of new technology without caring about where it comes from, how it is made or what is consequences are or may be. Today, this TECHNOLOGY APATHY/COMPLACENCY extends to integrated circuits, microchips and computers and the technology that gave them too us. We tend to accept that technology at face value, forgetting - sometimes not even caring - what spurred its development or why or how it works. All we appear concerned with is that it does work and that, in doing so, it betters our lives in some small way. Yet it is my opinion that in failing to consider what is at the heart of the new technology, we fail to consider the totality of the implications that it has for us - implications which go beyond the technology itself and confront us in our everyday existence. THE CONCEPT OR PRINCIPLE OF THE CONCENTRATION OF POWER IN THE HANDS OF A FEW: It might seem somewhat ludicrous to say that the transistor gave rise to the new technology. Yet it did. Small, versatile and capable of controlling and amplifying electrons, the transistor was the principle invention that gave rise to the new technology. Along with the development of the integrated circuit and the microchip, the transistor has revolutionized the new technology and brought it into virtually every aspect of modern life. But in its use as a basis for the new technology, the transistor may also be said to have an impact well beyond its scientific purpose, not envisaged by its creators, - an impact on the manner in which we now view ourselves and the world around us. Consider for a moment the consequences of taking the new technology for granted. If the majority of mankind is not concerned about how the new technology works, is not there the potential of a shift in the balance of power to only those who know? Consider what this means on a global scale. So long as the knowledge is forthcoming, our newly acquired standard of living continues. However, what happens if it is withdrawn or, worst still, if it is lost? What do we do? Is it possible that in our complacency we are relinquishing any control that we might have over the new technology to those who are instrumental in its creation and manufacture? Does this then raise a moral, philosophical or ethical dilemma for us and/or for those who have the knowledge. Who is it who will decide what the new technology is to be used for or how it will evolve? In fact, are we not already seeing the knowledge giants, if you will, dictate to the knowledgeless? What about Microsoft and its strategies in dictating software requirements on a global scale, or IBM and other manufacturers who dictate the hardware in your personal computers? Inevitably, the question becomes who of us - scientist, manufacturer, politician, or consumer should have a say about the new technology. Unfortunately, ultimately, it is those who know how the technology works and who can make that technology, who have real control. What would we do if the manufacturing end of the new technology were to come to an abrupt end? Do we have the fortitude to take step back and live without a technology that we have tasted of? Can we create it a second time? Understanding what the transistor is and how a microchip and integrated circuit are manufactured may seem unnecessary in the scheme of things, but I would submit to you that it is that very understanding that someday may help level the playing field. THE IMPACT ON SOCIETY It is somewhat trite to say that tiny things can have huge consequences. By itself the atom appears to be unworthy of comment. However, split the atom and you unleash an enormous amount of energy/power. Like the atom, the transistor, tiny as it was and continues to become, is the basis for the new technology. In consequence, one might argue that the transistor [which allowed for the development of the new technology] also gave rise to the consequences that we face as a result of the new technology. Some of these consequences are real. Advances in medicine; education; business; entertainment, and the apparently limitless flow of information by reason of the Internet and are real. Yet real consequences may also give rise to questions of moral, philosophical and ethical concern, asking us to judge, if you will, whether the consequences are worthwhile or "right" or "just". SOME SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER: What follows are some very basic questions which in one form or another have been or will be considered by each of us at some point in our lives. The answers are not meant to be binding on you. They are meant, instead to provoke you into thinking about what your answer might be. 1. WHERE SHOULD WE LET THE NEW TECHNOLOGY TAKE US? There is no one standard answer. Apparently, each of us appears to want new technology to do something that will serve our respective interests in some way or another. Usually, it will be to satisfy a promise, a wish, a dream, a hope, or a desire. Rarely, if at all, will it arise out of an unselfish motive. Perhaps it cannot arise unselfishly. Each of us must ultimately decide our own fate and we appear to be doing just that. 2. WHAT IS IT THAT WE WANT THE NEW TECHNOLOGY TO DO FOR US? Generally speaking the most common answer is: "To better our lives/to ease our lives." 3. BUT AT WHAT COST? A potential loss of our individuality, our privacy, our security of the person and all of the rights and privileges that go with them. Do we depart from the idea that the new technology is and will be always a tool for our use, accepting instead that it is no longer a tool, but has become inextricably interwoven into our lives - that it is merely another part or extension of us or, possibly, we are simply a part or extension of it? 3. ARE WE CONTENT TO LET OTHERS DECIDE WHERE THE NEW TECHNOLOGY WILL TAKE US? Must we be technology apathetic or complacent, allowing those with the money, power and/or control to decide where the new technology will take us and the form or forms in which it will evolve? Collectively and with our pocket books we can for the first time (given the internet) complain and take an active role in the development of the new technology. Our pocketbooks (money) collectively are power and the manufacturers will listen. What Are the dangers of technology apathy or complacence? Are they real or imaginary? Imperfections in software; the effect of quantum probability itself; and the failure of those who know how to remove their biases, views and philosophies from the software and also to recognize a flaw by looking at it, are just a few of the dangers we face. And if there are real dangers will we give up our right to have those dangers addressed immediately? The following fact situation actually gives rise to much of what this course is about. Consider it for a few days. Consider what your answers might be. After a few more lectures we will return to this question and determine just how many ways there are to answer it. Keep in mind, however, that nothing is free, that is: everything has a price or a consequence. FACT SITUATION An enlightened alien race discovers Earth. Its technology is 1,000 years ahead of our own. It has scientific advances we have only dreamed of, medicines that may cure all human disease and suffering and that could make us immortal by our own standards. The Aliens offer us this technology. (a) What do we do? Do we accept or reject the alien technology? (b) If we accept it, what are the implications to humanity? What is the cost? (c) If we reject it, are there any implications? (d) Assume that we are told that the Alien technology is "Alien Specific", but might be adapted to human use. Would your answers to (a), (b) and (c) change? Why? End of Lecture Summary ****************************************************************************************** LECTURE 9 THE CONCEPT OF TECHNOLOGY APATHY (CONTINUED) 1. THE CAUSES OF TECHNOLOGY APATHY Earlier, you were introduced to a concept called "technology apathy" or "technology complacency". You will recall that I explained it in such a way as to mean a blind faith in or acceptance of new technology without knowing where it came from or how it works and without caring about the consequences of using it or exposure to it. This blind faith/acceptance of new technology has arisen for a number of reasons. First, in terms of human population, only a few people actually know how the new technology works. This means that the majority of people have no idea how new technology works and certainly have no idea how to repair it if and when it breaks down. Oh yes! We are truly happy when our technology works, but when it does not - when it fails us - we use a vocabulary of four letter words that sometimes even shocks us. What is more, we have no way of fixing the problem. God help us all if the technicians were to go on strike. A second reason for or cause of technology apathy/complacence is our own familiarity with this technology. This familiarity has the effect of making people take the new technology for granted. In the Western world, while the older generation may not have actually grown up with the new technology, this generation became familiar enough with it that, today, a good majority of that generation cannot and would not do without it. This is even more so among your generation and the generation of children following your generation, since you all have grown up with this technology around you. Think, for example, of the microwave oven. Some of you may recall that when it was first marketed there were all sorts of cautions about its use. The user was not to stand too close. Regular inspections of the door were required, because the machine emitted radiation. For this reason as well, the user was advised not to stand too close to the machine when it was on. In consequence, the oven was used sparingly at first. However, with time, more hectic work and social schedules; and advice from manufacturers that they had solved the problems that went such appliances, frequency of use increased dramatically. This frequency of use has led to a familiarity with this appliance so that, without really thinking about what its dangers are or may be, whenever we need something warmed up in a hurry, we use our microwave ovens. The same can be said of the cell phone, our computers and accessory equipment, our televisions and much more. Studies suggest (albeit not conclusively) that the constant use of cell phones may cause temporal lobe cancer tumours. Studies also suggest (again not conclusively) that constant use of a keyboard may cause a medical condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Then too, they are studies that suggest that extended exposure to the minimal radiation of your computer monitor could have adverse effects on your health and that, since your computer emits electromagnetic waves, being close to it might also have effects on the user's health. In fact, if you now look at instruction manuals that come with keyboards or monitors, (assuming that you choose to look beyond the licence agreement - if you look at that at all) you will find warnings about extended use of these products and suggestions on how to minimize the potential effects on you of them. This familiarity that I speak of gives rise to another cause of technology apathy/complacence, something that I call overconfidence. First, we are very confident that the new technology will work for us as it is supposed to. Secondly, we are confident that it will not have any negative effects on us or our environment. In fact, our own feeling
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