May. 3rd, 2017

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Back when I worked for a company that pursued the "artificial intelligence" chimera in the heady days of the late 1980s, those of us who engaged in what was, in the industry, called "knowledge engineering" carried business cards that identified us as "knowledge engineers." The title was quite fashionable, at a time where everyone eagerly awaited the emergence of powerful "expert systems" that would represent a quantum leap in industrial productivity.

There would not have been the slightest problem with this, except for the fact that the company itself was registered with the state of Florida as an engineering company, and thus, its activities fell under the purview of the Department of Professional Regulation, which maintained that, for the company to remain compliant with regulations, anyone with a title that identified said individual as an "engineer" had to actually be an honest-to-Cthulhu P.E. (Florida-licensed Professional Engineer). Upon learning of this, management scrambled to comply, and in the end, all of us "knowledge engineers"—including yours truly, who as it turned out was a Florida P.E.—received replacement business cards bearing the title of "knowledge engineering consultant." The title was not as hip as its predecessor, but it successfully addressed an awkward situation.

I mention this because the state of Oregon, in its infinite wisdom, has apparently set forth a requirement that citizens must obtain an engineering license in order to publicly debate anything involving “engineering.” This regulation landed one Mats Järlström in hot water, as he had noticed a flaw in the mathematical formula used to regulate the timing of traffic lights, and specifically, how yellow lights are timed at so-called "red light cameras." He began agitating publicly about how red light cameras misuse the standard mathematical formula for timing traffic lights, which leads to unsafe driving conditions and unfair tickets.

Local media covered Järlström's story, and he even made a presentation on the subject at a national conference of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The state's response? Mats was fined $500 for the "unlicensed practice of engineering," and threatened with additional fines and jail time if he did not cease and desist from such activity.

It seems to me that, under such a standard, any citizen who publicly gives reasoned arguments, based in law, in opposition to (or in favor of) certain government activities could be fined for the "unlicensed practice of law" (though probably not so much in the latter case).

Järlström has filed a suit to protest the state's actions, which amount to a violation of the man's First Amendment rights. I wish him luck, as he is rocking a boat that collects oodles of cash for the government, and that is always a tough job.



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