According to Prof. Wong Wing-shing, Master of S.H. Ho College and Choh-ming Li Research Professor of Information Engineering, engineering is the optimal conversion of resources for human use. Technology is the means or the tool to achieve that optimal conversion.
In the above definition, resources include information which is as vital and tangible as water and air. Since antiquity, human beings have been very adept at organizing information for different purposes. The Great Wall of China, parts of which were built as early as the seventh century BC, served as a network of signalling towers in addition to a defence bulwark at a time when military information travelled by means of, among other things, smoke.
Industrial societies continuously spawn and refine means of connecting people with increasingly sophisticated networks of information. After the telephone there came the television, and in recent decades the worldwide web is essentially a network of computers, or mobile devices in recent years.
Professor Wong is generally sanguine about the future of technology or the world in which technology plays an increasingly larger role. But he is also concerned that technological changes might bring about unanticipated consequences which, without the appropriate social, ethical and legal safeguards, may adversely impact on the daily lives of ordinary citizens. Cyberbullying and threats to privacy are examples of a rampant but unregulated connectedness in the cyber world.
Untamed technological development may threaten to replace human judgments and societal responsibilities. For example, advances in AI and machine learning are being made in big strides every day and driverless cars may one day replace human drivers. Yet it is unlikely that accidents will disappear and resolving the liability issues arising therefrom requires careful considerations from all ethical, legal, and economic angles. In the absence of collective, conscientious steering, there is a real danger that technology will become the master instead of serving as a tool.
Professor Wong sees it as a responsibility of universities to prepare their students for these evolving and complex issues so that they can engage effectively in the harnessing of the increasingly powerful tool of Technology. Optimal conversion, after all, is a measure of human intelligence.
This article was originally published in No. 527, Newsletter in Nov 2018.