In this contemporary time, the most dynamic and evolving area is engineering. Such an observation may seem at first to be a mere truism but closer considerations of its impacts in medicine, entertainment, energy and surgery will rapidly dispel any such dismissive judgment.
Engineering is transforming all fields. Future medicine looks as a field where robots will seamlessly help doctors and surgeons get patients to work quicker and healthier. The future of global energy looks promising because engineers are breaking barriers daily in the quest to deliver affordable, efficient and clean sources of power.
From entertainment to security, nothing is spared. Today’s wars are technology wars fuelled by engineering geniuses acquired, advanced and processed over centuries. The bravery of a modern warlord is the engineering feat of someone who may never have to shoot. We are living in an era where discovery is not celebrated, not because they have become easier, but because they are happening regularly.
Engineering practice has changed so much and in a radical form from what it was a few decades ago. The global energy problem is engineering problem. The global health challenge is engineering problem and daily engineers are faced with burdens to solve major world problems. While the politicians enact the energy bills, the engineers make the energy practically available.
The bold and optimistic challenge to help engineer bio-grade artificial human organs is an assessment that managing what Nature gives us has limitations. Why not get a new artificial brain if the one that exists is troublesome enough?
But these advances pose serious ethical challenges which the engineers are not providing answers. In most cases, that is not their job; someone has to regulate them and put them on the path of keeping sanity on this earth.
But regulating these activities is unfortunately not easy. One technology could do well but could also be harmful. In this case, the problem is not the technology, but the application and usage. It is like saying because nuclear technology could kill en mass, it must be banned in hospitals where they are used in many critical treatments.
But for a moment, let us leave the technical aspect of engineering progress. I am already aware that many cotton farmers in Sudan could be out of jobs if some of the experiments on lab production of cotton in universities in US and European schools work out. We could be creating security crises where suddenly the commodity market is destroyed because nanotechnology has provided alternatives to rubber, cotton and hosts of other materials. People will be out of jobs and crises will start everywhere.
My concern is the disparity in engineering development between the developed and developing world. The rich nations are pushing the limits while the poor are not contributing much. It is not that they do not want to contribute, they want but the environment does not enable them. We lose their ideas and perspectives, unfortunately.
Can the future of engineering be structured so that these people can get on the pathway of creativity and innovation? Can the world and technical associations provide an effective system where boys and girls in developing countries could help to solve the global engineering challenges? How can this be done? In short, how can companies begin to give people at the bottom of the pyramid opportunities to shape the products that are designed for them?
The same problem that has undermined our abilities to solve major poor people’s diseases is what is affecting the ability of the world to provide technology in ways that the poor people can use them. Exporting Smartphone to people that just need the simplest phone is not a great strategy. When you stay in top European universities and craft an aids project that will be implemented in Botswana without understanding what they need is similar to exporting many products we see in developing nations that do not meet the real needs of those customers.
Malaria remains a disease because there is no money to be made as only the poor suffer it. Polio has the same problem. Tuberculosis is the same. Why? Because those that engineer drugs consider business before quest to save lives. So why not have a system where engineering goes global and local at the same time?
Answering, understanding and managing emerging developments of meeting the needs of every customer, broad and specific, in the highly fragmentized world market will define the future of engineering. It will show our readiness to solve the word’s problems. It will make engineering fresh before all global citizens. It is going gloCal- having a world global strategy, but acting local in each market or community. It means helping people solve local problems with global ideas.
If we begin to do that, we have the possibility of solving these problems. It is so shameful that in a world of so much knowledge, many are very poor and dying. We have solved the refrigeration problem in Boston, but in a small village in Ghana, the citizens have no light and refrigerators do not have any value there. So, can be say we have indeed solved how to preserve food?
The global food problem is an engineering problem. Even in Africa, they have enough during the harvesting season. But immediately that season is gone, many become hungry because they could not preserve the excess. So, you have a system where a man that threw away a basket of excess fresh tomatoes a month before is looking for a canned tomato for his family. What if he has preserved the fresh ones? We need solutions.
Now is the time to redefine what engineering research is. People at the bottom of the pyramid are not interested in nanotechnology and genome project. They just want simple ways to live and if governments, usually not their governments, can understand that there are many research and engineering challenges in these areas by providing simplicity through engineering, everyone can look at engineering future with optimism.
My African kinsmen care not if you can travel to Mars and yet cannot assist them to preserve the mangoes they harvested to last longer and feed their families. So while the Mars race is on, they expect the governments to fund ways to help them store their food. If that happens, they can confidently look at the future of discovery and engineering with optimisms. A little support and devoting the engineering powers of the advanced nations could eliminate many problems.
There are engineering challenges across the developing nations and it is time we put resources to solve them instead of being obsessed with sending private ships to the moon.
I hate to recognize the political problems, because in my understanding, a political problem is also an engineering problem. Engineering will solve all human problems. Let US put all the aids money they give the politicians in Africa and send some of their best minds from MIT, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, GaTech, Michigan and Stanford on engineering missions in Africa. Suddenly, there will be solutions to food preservation and we can reduce global poverty as everyone that grew up in Africa knows that our problem is not production, but preservation.
Engineering must be global and yet adaptable to local needs- we need gloCal engineering for the future. Let engineers be engineers, irrespective of boundaries and make this world a better place. Until then, many will not understand why they matter.