Future beckons

Tags: Knowledge

Today’s engineers must not only possess the ability to analyse problems but also the capability to synthesise solutions

One of the major responsibilities of engineers is to fulfill the expectations and needs of the common man. Common man thinks that engineers can eliminate hunger, poverty and disease. They think engineers can provide them safety and safe environment. We want engineers who understand the human dimensions of technology. Good engineering design is based on broad spectrum of life experiences. There is a need to build faith in the public that engineers are sensitive to their concerns. The role engineers play in the development process has been emphasised in a Unesco’s Report titled Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development (2010). The report highlights close link between engineering, economic growth and human development. To resolve current needs and constraints of the society, engineers are required who not only possess the ability to analyse problems but also possess the ability to synthesise solutions.

An emerging element of this evolving engineering context is open innovation, writes Charles Vest. Open innovators go wherever the solutions are available. They don’t like to be confined in themselves. They like to go beyond the inner means for solving problems. They are not afraid to go out, wherever they think they can find solutions. “Much of what will be exciting and valuable in the 21st century will be the work of engineers who will move tiny systems technology into macro systems applications,” says Vest. As Cherry Murray says, we want engineers who are like “T-shaped” thinkers; deep in one field, but able to work across all fields and communicate well.

We need a different kinds of engineering educators. We need to shift the focus of engineering curricula “from transmission of content to development of skills that support engineering thinking and professional judgment.” The challenge of future engineering education is to weave its various components — engineering profession, the society it serves, educational institutions, educators, and students — into a whole.

The rulebook of engineering ethics includes many things. It includes honesty and integrity in acknowledging un-success and errors. Distorting or altering or omitting the facts that are not in conformity with applicable engineering standards is unethical engineering practice. Engineers are expected to encourage extending public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and its achievements. One of the major obligations of engineering ethics is to bring the guilty to the proper authority. It is the responsibility of the engineers to take care of the proprietary interests of others,and to give credit where it is due. One big responsibilities is to keep oneself updated about professional developments and practices.

Engineers need to ask themselves the most important question — do I take pride in designing a thing and manufacturing it as I take pride in packaging it? Ethics is about moral principles. The simple and easy definition of ethics is “knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do”. Ethics is about what engineers are supposed to do and what they are doing. As Cicero said eons ago “public safety must be pre-eminent in everything engineers do”.

Should ethics be taught to engineering students? Is it feasible to introduce ethics course in the already burdened engineering curriculum? Educators are realising the importance of ethical sensitivity while preparing engineering professionals. Teaching engineering ethics can achieve some desirable outcomes, writes Joseph Herkert. The outcomes are increased ethical sensitivity, increased knowledge of relevant standards of conduct, improved ethical judgment, and improved ethical will-power (that is, a greater ability to act ethically when one wants to). Educators who are involved with teaching engineering ethics say that components of ethics can be introduced into an existing curriculum either by introducing a new course or by keeping provision for ethics in the already existing courses, such as design courses. Design provides a context in which ethical issues typically arise naturally.

It is good to remember that, as someone rightly pointed out, “The teachings of Plato, Mill, Kant, Spinoza, Descartes, Nietzsche, Epicurus, Confucius, and others will indeed provide a very solid foundation for the understanding of ethics. But it is important that ethics courses also deal with the pragmatic issues that confront engineers in the rough-and-tumble, everyday world in which they live and work.” zz

(The writer is a biotechnologist

and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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