By Gary Hinkle
Do we know what kinds of projects engineers will be working on in the coming years? Visionary physicist Michio Kaku in his latest best-seller, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, points out many scientific advancements that are ready, or nearly ready for the next step, for engineers to transform them into commercial products.
Kaku, co-founder of string field theory and an expert in topics like supergravity and hadronic physics, is known internationally as a “rock star” theoretical physicist and futurologist whose predictions are grounded in reality. He’s had the privilege of interviewing many of the world’s top scientists who are, today, inventing the future in their laboratories.
A few examples of science that’s nearly ready, according to Kaku:
MOBILE DISPLAYS. The military widely uses technology that displays images on an eyepiece attached to a helmet. Imagine the potential to display images on consumer eyeglass products and contact lenses. Think of the ways in which this will change how we interact with computers, phones, and other devices with displays!
NAVIGATION SYSTEMS. Google is spending millions perfecting technology that will enable cars to drive themselves. The goal is to make cars safer, while allowing the “driver” to relax or do something else while on the road.
CANCER TREATMENT AND PREVENTION. A replacement technology for chemotherapy will send nanoparticles like rifle bullets to destroy cancer cells at the molecular level. Electronic DNA scanners installed in home toilets will detect cancer cells in human waste years before a tumor forms.
OTHER MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES. MRI machines–now the size of a hospital room–could be reduced to handheld devices, thanks to advancements in computing power that compensate for the non-uniform magnetic fields produced by small magnetic coils.
Engineers have more opportunity today than ever before to transform scientific advancements into useful products. Yet engineers are witnessing declining respect for their profession in the U.S. Their employers continue to package up engineering assignments and ship them off to low-cost labor overseas, essentially commoditizing their work rather than enlisting their professional engineering abilities and contribution to take their companies to the next level.
This trend might be reversing some, but there’s an awful irony lurking just below the surface: while engineering capability is improving rapidly in places like China and India, business leadership and management capability is also improving significantly there, while it’s stagnating in the U.S.
Think about this for a moment:
When was the last time we witnessed a management practice breakthrough that significantly improved the way products are developed?
Instead, we make incremental improvements, affording only slight improvement if applied correctly. In fact, most companies are way behind in applying the proven practices that have been around for decades to improve the way they vet opportunities, determine priorities, define requirements, allocate resources, and manage projects. Studies by organizations like Booz & Company, The Standish Group, Dr. Dobbs, and highly regarded universities show minimal improvement—at best—in the success rate of projects in the U.S. over the last decade. Why? Because, while technical proficiency continues to improve, management and leadership ability are stuck.
What’s needed is stronger leadership—courage, vision, optimism, influence, and more. Why “leadership” and not “management”? Because solid leadership ensures strong management, but strong management doesn’t guarantee solid leadership. The U.S. needs workers who understand what excellent leadership is, we need workers with a strong desire to be leaders, and we need engineers to step up and actually lead.
The future of engineering depends on motivated and influential engineering leaders. Sadly, they are in short supply here.