of technologies and magic

My engineering class here at Berkeley, almost all nicked from the wonderful notes (and syllabus) of a fellow PhD-er at TUWSNBN,* is about the social, political and cultural effects of engineering. I talk of how we can decide (or even if we can decide) to use technologies in a way that benefits the world we live in, rather than increase social, political and economic divides.

With that in mind, we have discussed green design ("eco-effectiveness" rather than "eco-efficiency"), wandered through (and discussed) what made the Cal cafetaria "green"** and checked out the top 10 "green" skyscrapers in the world.

Tomorrow's lecture is on a slightly different topic--a "post-human future".

This, unsurprisingly to most PTSD readers, seemed to be to be a wonderful time to bring up science fiction (or "future fiction") novels. However, I have managed (with difficulty it has to be said) to avoid doing anything of the sort. Instead, in tomorrow's lecture, I shall talk about (what else?) Harry Potter. Yes, Harry Potter.

It seemed to me, while writing up the lecture, that some of the themes from the books--how we deal with changes in our lives in view of increasing powers we acquire--are similar to what I want my students to discuss. Yes, technologies are changing rapidly. Yes, these kids will grow up in a world that I (or other kids in "my" part of the world) will never know or understand. But, the concerns they share--how to use technology and do little harm as possible -- are similar to that of the students and teachers of Hogwarts. And so I shall start the discussion.

After writing my lecture, I found I wasn't the only person who thought of this. Joel Garreau, whose book Radical Evolution forms the guideline of this section of my course expressed a similar view, much more eloquently than I ever would.

* With his permission, of course.
** It was apparently the first "green" building on the Uni of California Berkeley campus. It also has a fully organic kitchen.

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