Thursday, May 12, 2005

appropriate technology, part 2

Nearing the end of yesterday's article, I just realised I had rambled on and on about appropriate technology without explaining what it was. And then...I got too lazy to add this whole argument in. Anyways....

Q :What the bloody hell is appropriate technology?

A : The best example I can give you is with the irrigation systems thingy in poor countries. Let's say one day, you become damn rich and feel like making the world a better place. You read in the papers that those poor farmer dudes in India face problems during the dry season. So you think, "I go and buy the best and most sophisticated water pump there is in the market and I'll give it to one lucky farmer."

Very good, indeed. Farmer says thank you very much. Newspapers take pictures of you and tout you as a kind soul. Everybody is happy....until 6 months down the road when that stupid pump breaks down. Farmer gets a mechanic to try to repair it, but the mechanic says he's never seen such a sophisticated piece of equipment. In the end, farmer can't find anybody to repair it, and so he goes back to using donkeys (or whatever the hell it is that he was using) to pump all that water.

That is a good true story example of inappropriate technology.

Q : Why is all this crap important?

A : Its quite obvious, so that you don't do what the dude in the above example did. More importantly, so that more research can be done into developing equipment suitable for such communities. I spent the last 8 months developing a machine that could crush plam nuts (kelapa sawit) in remote Ghanian villages which do not have access to electricity and running water. Oh..did I mention that they were poor? And so, instead of a cool looking robot machine at the end of the project, we came up with a crude homemade machine.

Q : What so hard about that?

A : The challenges were unimaginable and the constraints ridiculous. Everything we had learnt was thrown out the window. Even the most basic of mechanical components like bearings were not feasible components. We couldn't use rivets. Welding was a no-no. The only material we could use was steel - but still needed to keep the weight down.

Q : So what? What has all this got to do with what you said yesterday?

A : Compare the gulf in technology between the Mars rover and that appropriate technology water pump in India. What would they be (potentially) used for?

Mars rover used to collect some soil samples and take photographs. This is so that we can learn more about Mars. This is in case one fine day a giant asteroid hits Earth and we all need to go stay in Mars.

Water pump used to supply water to paddy fields during dry season. This is so that the crops don't die. This is so that the farmer can sell his crops to feed his family and buy todi. Otherwise, they starve along with the other people who don't get to eat because every other farmer's crops died.

Now......if only all those brilliant minds and money had been channeled to a more needy cause.

Q : All that is very noble indeed. But why the bloody hell would rich developed countries want to channel time and money into helping those poor starving dudes?

A : They don't have to. Its nothing more than a moral debate. They can go ahead building their space probe to go to the Sun (true story). Its their money. Its their resources. They can spend their time and money developing robots that walk and talk and wave to people. They can build a robot the size of a MechWarrior which can change car tyres, direct traffic and stop cars from crashing.

Or....they could help solve the rest of the world's problems at hand before moving on to things in a larger scale (large AND disastrous - like the International Space Station. They kept pumping money into it to keep it alive). Nobody said that they shouldn't do all those space exploration stuffs. I am just saying that at the moment, there are better things they could do with all that money and expertise.

Q : Ah, ok.....but I still disagree with all that.

A : Yeah, ok. You can kiss my hairy ass..........

No, I was just joking. Unlike most other things, there is no right and wrong here. You are welcome to disagree and continue building all your robots which walk around doing nothing. Please post your grievances in the comments section.


There is no reason not to agree with it.. the basis of engineering revolves not on what can be done per se, but what can be done within a set of constraints (time, available technology, money, other resources).. I disagree with you on money wasted on other superfluous technology (ASIMO, mars landings bla bla).. I think its important to constantly develop new technology, if not as something presently applicable to society, then a stepping stone for later advances and applications.. However, I do believe that it has to go hand in hand with "saving the world"..

Yes, if those could go hand in hand, it would be great to 'save the world' AND build stepping stones for the future. Unfortunately, as you rightly pointed out, there are constraints. If you spread the field and attempt to do everything, you cannot focus on doing one job perfectly.

However, if the argument for advanced technology (ASIMO, Mars, etc) is to quench the human thirst for knowledge, this is where I have no valid argument. As I said, it would then be nothing more than a moral debate.


wah this is so relevant today..


look at what's happening to the world..

1) wheat shortage due to droughts in australia..but yet again australia is a developed country so how do u reason that out?

2) all those jokes about malaysia sending a space satelite to research the sun (and sending them at night too)..seriously..space probe to the sun?


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