Looking Ahead

moderator: Thomas L. Magnanti, School of Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Barry Horowitz, Department of Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia
author: F. Stan Settles, Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, University of Southern California
author: Daniel Hastings, Engineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: William B. Rouse, Georgia Institute of Technology
published: March 7, 2013,   recorded: March 2004,   views: 2063

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At the start of this panel, Thomas Magnanti wonders whether engineering feats of the 21st century will rival 20th century systems built to provide electricity, water, and communications throughout the nation. Subsequent speakers focus mainly on the practice and teaching of engineering for increasingly complex projects. Barry Horowitz points out that undertaking vast, new engineering systems necessarily entails greater uncertainties. He worries that without more sophisticated models for measuring outcomes, society at large might confuse uncertainties with incompetent engineering. F. Stan Settles recounts early experiences as a young engineer—“designing a shim so it would help the assembly guy avoid hurting his hands.” He was severely criticized for flouting authority—but “ended up a vp.” Can we think outside the box and learn to predict things like the Challenger accident or the electric grid failure? William Rouse describes his efforts to energize faculty at Georgia Tech by creating a “portfolio of intellectual initiatives” to solve interesting problems. He recommends bringing together various disciplines, including artists and architects, to grapple with the implications of new technologies. Daniel Hastings calls for the deliberate cultivation by academia of engineering systems leaders, who will take into account the “broader scope of issues…and consider context as a variable rather than a constraint.” Issues like disarmament and genetic testing call for a holistic approach in the profession.

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