Engineering’s Future

Writes Robert Lukcy in IEEE Spectrum:

Engineering today feels like that window seat on the airplane. Those can’t be real transistors and wires down there, can they? Watching the simulations on my computer monitor is like watching the movie on the airplane – an unreality wrapped in another unreality. I feel that I have lost touch with Edison’s world of electricity – a world of black Bakelite meters, whirring motors, acrid chemical smells, and heated conductors. I miss Heathkits and the smell of molten solder and burning insulation – the sensual aspects of engineering that have been replaced for many of us by the antiseptic, ubiquitous, and impersonal CRTs.

I have a deeper worry that math itself is slipping away into the wispy clouds of software that surround us. I walk down the aisles of laboratories, and I see engineers staring vacantly into monitors, their desks piled high with anachronistic paper detritus. Is anyone doing math by hand any longer, I wonder? Do they miss the cerebral nourishment of solving equations? Perhaps math in the future will be the exclusive province of a cult of priests that embeds its capability in shrink-wrapped, encrypted software.

I can’t believe that 20 years from now engineers will still stare into displays, run CAD tools, and archive their results in PowerPoint. But what will they do? My deepest fear is that the reality gap becomes so great that the best-selling software will be called Engineer-in-a-Box.

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Perhaps the best thing I learnt in my engineering is the ability to think differently – there are multiple ways to approach the same problem. If one does not work, then try another. Engineering instills in one discipline and logical thinking laced with a practicality, because at the end of the day one has to solve real-world problems.

I may not remember much of what I learnt within the classroom during by BTech and MS days, but I do know that I would not have been what I am had it not been for my learnings in the schools of Electrical Engineering at IIT and Columbia.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.