Remember an IEEE-produced book entitled "Engineering Tomorrow," published in 1999? That got me thinking about what the underlying forces BEHIND the future of electrical and electronics engineering really are, and how they may drive future innovations.
There was a television show in the 70's that became very popular, though you'd be hard pressed to find even one copy of it intact today. It was The World Tomorrow, a religious program that, at that time, featured the charismatic and handsome Garner Ted Armstrong. The program had a following of millions of people worldwide, perhaps largely because of the captivating and mesmerizing delivery of Mr. Armstrong. His style was a dramatic combination of Captain Kirk and Paul Harvey, delivered with an entertaining bit of sarcasm and sense of irony, punctuated by an occasional weighty pronouncement worthy of a Shakespearean actor. So engaging was he that he even appeared on an episode of Hee Haw, and, later in his life, on Oprah Winfrey (as most great thinkers eventually do). It didn't matter that the church he represented at that time, the Worldwide Church of God, had predicted World War III would begin in 1972, with the “United States of Europe” overthrowing the United States of America. It didn't matter. You'd watch anyway. At least until Garner Ted and his church got into a fight and Garner Ted pretty much disappeared.
What reminded me about that program was a book that came out in 1999 by our old friends at the IEEE. The book was called Engineering Tomorrow, and was intended to--well, it was probably intended to make money, but more likely succeeded only in keeping some IEEE staffers busy for awhile. Maybe there were some extra tips for the waitresses at the Fountainbleau Diner in Piscataway, New Jersey, too, with anything left over going to John Wiley & Sons, the co-publisher. Anyway, it was supposed to examine how engineering might change the 21st century, and featured interviews with a bunch of experts to, I imagine, give it credibility. According to the publisher's blurb on the back cover, the idea was to see if technology in the world tomorrow would be “humane and not inane,” and which technologies the experts would “uninvent” if they could. (Probably sounded good at the Fountainbleau after a couple of French Silk pies. If the boss hadn't been there and told them to get it done tout suite, they might have thought better of it later and kept quiet about the whole thing.)
So here we have this book purporting to summon the spirits of the future through the medium of our most highly respected engineering priests. As would be appropriate to such a visionary endeavor, the cover is very futuristic looking, and the title is engaging and thought provoking. But the book disappointingly contains some very anti-climatic conclusions, such as, nuclear power could replace fossil fuel plants in the future, because fossil fuels will be harder to get. Wow, do ya think? Kind of like expecting an intellectual fire and getting some ashy old coals, instead. (Not that I'm against nuclear power--in fact, I'm looking forward to power derived from Helium3 nuclear fusion.) There's even the chillingly threatening chapter about how we can “separate the Internet's wheat from its chaff,” as if we needed somebody to do that for us, because you know we just can't think so good by ourselves. And the whole thing was packaged inside to look like a textbook, which you KNOW is exciting. So, unlike Garner Ted Armstrong's electric, multi-media delivery of what might be considered fairly unbelievable stuff, we have here a pretty flat delivery of some bland, yawningly believable, warmed-over gruel-like material (kind of like what the Fountainbleau might serve on a very bad day). They both tried to foretell the future, and while one was a spectacular success, for a short while, in spite of being out and out wrong in some fairly big ways (unless the USA actually was overthrown and the headline was buried because Paris Hilton had her behind tattooed again), the other was--well, it was the IEEE.
That got me thinking about what the underlying forces BEHIND the future of electrical and electronics engineering really are, and how they may drive future innovations. I think the underlying forces might be better predictors of the future than mere extrapolations of current research. As you might expect, I see it in terms of a battle between what is noble in the profession, versus what is mercenary. The outcome of that battle could determine our fate, with as much finality as World War III. I'll explore it in the next installment of the Noble Profession.
Check out this video on YouTube:
Check out this video on YouTube:
Garner Ted Armstrong - 1977 - Born Again
Garner Ted Armstrong and his wife Shirley were friends of former Egyptian President Anwar and Sadat and his wife Jehan Sadat. Garner Ted Armstrong had done a series of interviews with his friend Anwar Sadat that aired on the television and radio program versions of The World Tomorrow. Both couples were at a White House state dinner hosted by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalind in 1977. The state dinner was shortly before Sadat signed the Camp David Peace Accords, which his friend Garner Ted Armstrong was instrumental in convincing him to sign. Former US Senator's Bob & Elizabeth Dole were also at that White House state dinner as an invited couple and guests of President Carter. Bob Dole had just lost the VP nod as the Republican nomination ticket with former US President Gerald Ford, and was serving on a Senate committee on Agriculture. Garner Ted Armstrong had also covered a series of episodes on Agriculture and the American Farmer on The World Tomorrow broadcast. Garner Ted Armstrong made such a favorable impression and impact on Bob Dole, that Senator Bob Dole ordered the preservation of ALL of Garner Ted Armstrong's television programs in the Film and TV archives of the United States Library of Congress. Those programs have been in cold storage for all these years, and were discovered by Garner Ted Aukerman while he was searching for a hardback original copy of Garner Ted Armatrong's 1981 book "Peter's Story". No one, not even Garner Ted Armstrong, knew the programs had been preserved by Senator Bob Dole. Garner Ted Armstrong's son, Mark Armstrong has been editing some of those 1970's television programs and two have aired again on national television in recent weeks as "best of" Garner Ted Armstrong programs.
Here is another trend. There is an organization called "Engineers without boarders". Primarily the focus on improving sewage treatment and water supply. Two of the fundamental requirements of improving the lot of thousands around the world so that they can dream those dreams, before they are overcome by dysentary(sp?). Go check'em out.
Finally, for those that are interested in predicting trends, go study the work of the great father of modern marketing, and manipulation of culture, "Edward Bernays". YouTube used to have the entire BBC documentary on him called "Century of the Self".
Good fences make good neighbors. Good communication makes better neighbors. I appreciate that you implied the meat is in the cheaper solar cells and the fluff, "useless tricks" is in the cell phones. However, from where I sit, and from the recent events in the world that rely heavily on 'getting the word' out, to turn the tyrants out, I say that cell phones have a great deal of meat to them! Particularly the photo and video capability. And the access to networks to get the news out.
Now let me go out on a predictable limb, (at least tht is what my wife would tell you) and cut it off. ;-)
The critical mistake that the United States and it's allies made is to use the technology of brute force method of social change in Iraq rather than airlifting in 65 million* satellite phones & small solar panels and batteries, (and at the time, 2001-2002, cheap laptops, or Ipods, now it woud be Ipads or Android pads) and let the cultural forces that will naturally evolve take root when the majority of a population has access to outside information. It is far cheaper to supply free press and access to information then it pummel (sp?) the other culture. Additionally our country wouldn't be looked upon so badly internationally. Think 5 or six AWACS circling Iraq and beaming in and receiving free access to the internet in 2001-2011, and airlifting in millions of cell phones and small solar panels and rechargeable batteries. And as the technology advances, in 6 to 10 months, repeat the air drops with the new 'useless tricks'. Egypt was able to pull the plug on the network there, but for Iraq, we already had the no fly zone going on. What a strategic opportunity we missed. I hope we don't miss it with Iran, and other Autocratically run empires.
* pop. of Iraq as provided by Googles
At least they want to be video game designers, Duane, not just play them. My guess is they'd find out soon enough that almost every computer science student wants to design video games, and very few of them can get jobs doing that...
Along the lines of the useless cell phone - How about video games? I've had many years of exposure to video games (anyone remember Pongtronics from "Popular Electronics" magazine back in the 70's?). Certainly, I've played my share, them from back in the Apple ][ days to WOW and several Call of Duty's. In moderation, I'm not philosophically opposed to them, but way too much brainpower and innovation goes into what has become a self-defeating engine of electronic addiction.
I'm about to send my son off to study Computer Science at a local University. I'm very proud of him and excited at his choice of profession, but I do hope that his academic immersion will spur him to thoughts of solving more important problems than rendering realistic blood splatter. I hope that I've been able to instill in him a higher sense of purpose.
I worry about such things, because he and many of his peers say that they want to be video game designers. They don't aspire (at this point in their lives) to engineer the exploration of distant planets, or find ways to save the environment or to protect our personal identities. They want to engineer more immersive games to play.
I've expressed my thoughts to him that the imperative of his generation is to find a safe replacement for fossil fuel. From what I've seen from too many of them though, they see the imperative of their generations as replacing reality with a virtual entertainment version of reality.
There are a lot of big problems to be solved. We won't solve them by dedicating a generation of engineers to this kind of escapism.
Innovation is driven by a number of forces. Profit is certainly one of the main contributors. In order to keep those profits coming in and stay ahead of the competition, innovation must take place. While the profession can be quite noble and a lot of individuals are in it first to create, the drive for profit is what ultimately fuels it.
These days, there is also organized nationalism as a driver. In the case of China the government sponsors and finances innovation as a means to national power and prestige. Here in the US, some individuals may have nationalism in their heart, but we don't have a single force driving that nationalistic innovation on a universal scale. Certainly, though, you could say that the defense industry makes a big segment of our innovation driven by nationalistic purposes.
Finally, man's fundamental need to create and explore will drive innovation. Engineering types tend to be curious and problem solvers.
In summary, I'd say that human nature (profits, nationalism, curiosity) drives the future of electronics more than any specific technology.
It will be really interesting to know the underlying forces that drive future innovations. While we are looking to the future some of the so-called current technologies are already facing a sad demise. I just found some of these predictions on the following link.
Rich, sounds like interesting and important topic to reflect on. With possible implications for some of our EE educators. Looking forward to your next installment after this intriguing intro with your great sense of humor! Kris