AI, responsible sustainability, and my broken washing machine

I had just sat down to work one Saturday afternoon, when the familiar sound of the clothes washer, starting its spin cycle like an airplane taking off, started humming in the background. It was that sort of familiar noise that was both comforting and quickly drowns out the background, allowing me to sink quickly into a nice flow with some engineering work.

Suddenly, with a loud thump, the sound of a rattle, and something too awful to describe, the spinning machine came to a dramatic halt. I knew immediately it was the washing machine, as that peaceful hum was no longer softly blanketing the background. An uncomfortable silence was left in its void.

I walked over to the machine and made a quick inspection. Sure enough, there was a dim indicator on the front panel that read Err as my clothes sat in a soapy swamp. My first indication was to go online and seek some machine first-aid at As an engineer myself, it’s almost a reflex to begin the troubleshooting process, no matter the medium.

Down the rabbit hole I went, educating myself on condenser units, evacuation pumps, controller computers, and the impressive array of components used to assemble these machines. Eventually some sort of alarm went off in my mind, and I was hit with the heavy reality of having wasted several hours attempting to gain expertise in a field I barely knew. So, I called the repair line and booked a repair.

Easy enough. In modern times, we have access to nearly immediate service only a phone call or screen-tap away. Though as I sat back down at my computer, I began to wonder if there was another, more efficient way to allow the manufacturer to diagnose and service my washer. After all, the selfish side of me reasoned it would save me, as the consumer, some additional TCO in the life of the appliance.

On the flip side, what if I would’ve just declared the device defective, irreparable, or obsolete? Would it have made its way to a recycling yard or trash heap as I enjoyed the delivery of a shiny new product? Appliance manufacturers are producing products with shorter lifespans than ever and higher failure rates than their legacy counterparts.

This drives earlier whole-unit replacements and generates more waste. However, I would add that the millennial generation has a distaste for such environmental or corporate villainy, quickly sniffing out its presence and choosing the more sustainable option instead.

Consumer electronics are attractive, and the provocation…

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