Technology and Responsibility


Sometimes technology is hard to put in proper perspective.  Technology as a marketable product has a lot of complex implications.  From the research and development that goes in to the manufacture of products based on the new tech.

Consider the humble light bulb.  By the time Edison made the electric light popular, affordable, etc., it had been in existence since it’s initial debut by the famous British chemist Humphry Davy as a safety lamp for coal mining.  Coal dust being explosive, a light was needed that did not involve open flame, demonstrating once again that necessity is the driving force of invention.

We could discuss what constitutes necessity or if technology progresses out of the ability to serve a need profitably.  That would be a separate blog post.

Incandescent light was followed by fluorescent light.  The fluorescing effect of certain compounds we known since the 1800’s.  Making more light from the same amount of electrical charge seemed like a great idea at the time.  That same idea is carried forward in the compact fluorescent light bulb that has recently emerged as a mainstay of the lighting industry.

In order for these technologies to achieve their incredibly low cost they have to be mass produced.  Not just volume, but volume.   Tens of millions.  And like the car industry, there is an incredible investment in the machines that produce the glass, make the coatings, filaments, etc.  Every penny spent in the means of production is factored into the 4 pack for $4.00 at the store.  It ain’t easy and the dollars are huge.  The role of mechatronics in the machinery of production is very significant.

In recent decades the LED is emerging as the new cost contender for its efficiency and long life expectancy.  The new technology offers incredible new choices in lighting color, intensity and the ability to control complex lighting effects even at the consumer level.  The semiconductor industry is betting heavily on the LED market as a major new segment to keep it’s hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue pumped up along side the computer, cellphone and flat screen markets.

All of the technology driving lighting products and the means of manufacturing are about making a profit.  That’s fair, companies are investing billions these days to get to the next great breakthrough.

What you will rarely hear about is complex life cycle costs of these products.  Nobody ever discussed proper disposal of fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs.  I wager there is no return for disposal instruction for GE or Philips products, though there should be.  The chemistry of making anything in the semiconductor world, but LED’s in particular, is really dangerous.  But generally speaking the semiconductor guys clean up after themselves.

Not to call out the lighting folks, you can have this conversation about any tech product.  The point here is to have the conversation before new tech goes to production, not after.



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