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Professors explore technology’s impact

Molly Madden | Wednesday, October 13, 2010

 

Notre Dame professors of science and engineering attempted to determine what role the ever-expanding field of technology will play in the advancement of the common good at Tuesday’s Notre Dame Forum event at Washington Hall.
 
The panel discussion, titled “Technology: Boon or Bane?” asked four Notre Dame professors to look at the opinions expressed in Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Hot, Flat and Crowded,” on how modern technology can be utilized for the purpose of the development. 
 
“The Pope and Friedman are very similar in their views but they have very different paths for moving forward,” said Robert Alworth, associate dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the colleges of science and engineering, as well as the moderator for the panel, in his opening remarks. “Tonight we will look at the technological challenges posed by both Benedict and Friedman.”
 
The opinions of the two men were selected as the focus of discussion because of their relation to this year’s Forum. Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical is the basis for the Forum’s theme of “The Global Marketplace and the Common Good,” and Friedman will be the speaker at the Forum’s signature event next month. 
 
Peter Kilpatrick, McCloskey Dean of the College of Engineering, said Friedman dedicated a great deal of time in his book to the reality of global warming and his belief in the cause of climate change on the globe.
 
“Friedman said that climate change is human-induced,” Kilpatrick said. “But he accepts the premise that not all people will accept this view. However, he says that he hopes all agree with him when he says the world can’t maintain our current energy consumption rates forever.”
 
Kilpatrick said Friedman also focused on the methods he thinks need to be employed to stabilize the global economy. 
 
“Friedman insists in the book that price, tax and profits are the only way to get the economy moving again,” Kilpatrick said. “This differs from Benedict’s belief that not all corporate leaders are motivated by the bottom line — Benedict believes some have to be motivated by love, justice and compassion.”
 
Kilpatrick pointed out the irony between balancing the two economic beliefs of the two men would lead to an economic model that is beneficial to sustainability.
 
“Corporate social responsibility will lead to a greater profit and products such as solar-powered cars that are in demand and sell,” he said. “We just need to build corporate social responsibility into the economic model.”
 
Wolfgang Porod, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Center for Nano Science and Technology, focused his discussion on the idea presented in “Caritas” about the role of faith in technology and the future of human development.
 
“The Pope certainly endorses technology in the encyclical,” Porod said. “But we have to make decisions in a responsible way, even if we are fascinated by the technology.”
 
Porod addressed Benedict’s belief that the modern fascination with technology may prevent people from turning toward the spiritual world. 
 
“Technology seduces us, but we can choose to use it for good or evil,” Porod said. “It’s not technology itself that is bad, it is how we choose to use it.”
 
Porod said these choices would be the basis for the future of sustainable growth in relation to technological advances.
 
“We need to make responsible decisions, but we also need to remember how to trust others to make responsible decisions,” he said.
 
Joe Fernando, professor of engineering and geosciences, focused his talk on Friedman’s idea of a culture of irresponsibility and how Benedict’s views expressed in “Caritas” can be applied to this scheme.
 
“Everything is interrelated to global warming which becomes one of the biggest social issues in the world today,” Fernando said.
 
Fernando said in an effort to make people take notice, many scientists did not always give the most valid information in regards to global warming, which added to the culture of irresponsibility Friedman put forward in his book.
 
“If you don’t give at least some indication about the dangers of global warming, than no one will pay attention,” Fernando said. “But one of the current problems is that we need to be more honest.”
 
Fernando said a push for honesty in society is one of the running themes of “Caritas in Veritate.” 
 
“If we are to consider everybody to be created under God, that means we must honor their rights, which implies the common good,” he said. “If the Church can keep pushing for this truth … our work will depend on what Benedict calls the ‘culture of life,’ which will lead to integral human development.”
 
Gregory Crawford, Dean of the College of Science, discussed the notion of intellectual property and patents and how it applies to both technology and to human development in line with the ideals laid out in “Caritas.”
 
“Most companies today have all their worth tied up in the non-tangible aspects, in their patented ideas,” Crawford said. “Patents drive the economy and entrepreneurship but is there such a thing as a good thing in this instance?”
 
Crawford said in the technological world, a patent allows businesses to have a certain type of monopoly to market their technology and profit. He said the challenge would be how to use technological intellectual properties and find a way to use them to further global development on a much more basic scale.
 
“How do we balance monetary incentive of patents with the common good?” Crawford asked. “Do we have the right to impose restrictions on intellectual properties that could provide answers to world’s problems concerning basic questions of providing food, water and shelter?”
 
Crawford said he believed modern science and technology was doing a better job at looking at the “bigger picture” when balancing modern technological and scientific developments with ethics. 
 
“Before we didn’t think through all the issues and consequences,” he said. “But now we actually talk about good and bad aspects of our technologies. We ask questions we never would have before … we’re moving parallel and thinking about the ethics.”