Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reading Response 2: IAA

Coming from an engineering background this is a topic that i have thought about for some time. During my undergraduate studies in engineering a group of friends and i would enter a yearly multidisciplinary design competition. One year we were short on inspiration and a friend brought in the large DARPA publication listing projects for which they were calling for proposals. Our "designer's block" was cured and as we sifted through the projects but our minds began to drift from the actual proposals to their potential uses. It appears that we quickly turned from engineers to critics.

Today the large book has been replaced by the government portal fedbizopps. Here is an interesting opportunity:

This was an important experience in our pathways towards being engineers. The following semester we took a technical writing course being taught by a poet where we read one of the ultimate artifacts of "ambivalence" in engineering; the technical documentation for the mobile gas chambers used by the nazis. Given the context of the use of these "products" showed us how technical jargon and processes make it very easy to be overcome with ambivalence while in the engineering profession.

The IAA's text outlines the influence DARPA on programs and today it still applies but it is not the only influence, although, arguably, indirectly it still may be the biggest influence. Today many corporate sponsorships also influence academic programs and many of these corporations also work on a number of DARPA projects(think Motorola Innovation Center).

It is an interesting take on the "fantasy into reality" in DARPA and subsequently on academics and engineering. This reminds me of Klaus Theweleit's "Male Fantasies" where soldiers give up identity to become part of the army thereby partaking in a form of ambivalence through acting as a part of the machine and removing themselves from any ethical results of their actions. Can engineers be considered soldiers in this sense?

While the goals of the IAA seem novel i am not so sure if they are successful in the projects mentioned in the text. As an engineer i am more interested in the technical aspects of those projects and they do little to spark any critical thoughts. It is one thing to use the processes employed by a community to educate that community but one must still understand that community to ensure that what is in the trojan horse is as interesting as the design of the apparatus itself. They may need better requirements to engineer towards.

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