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Perspectives on Engineering

Perspectives on Engineering

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Engineering Systems Symposium 2004. This panel provides a sense of the critical role engineering systems have played historically, and continue to play, as advanced technologies take root around the world. Charles Vest urges a broad intellectual framework for studying and developing large engineered systems, whose "complexities are so great we can't know all the possible end states." A new framework becomes urgent as we face "the mother of all systems problems" – defending ourselves against terrorism-- and the ultimate challenge of sustainable development. Thomas Hughes invokes the past to encourage the inclusion of "a real and messy world" in engineering approaches. For instance, the 19th century road-building projects of Thomas Telford also functioned to improve literacy and reduce poverty. David Mindell describes the evolution of engineering science from the Manhattan Project through the Apollo missions to the end of the Cold War. He welcomes a shift in engineering studies from an exclusive focus on the technology itself to technologies' impact. Engineers must be trained as "inventors, communicators, policy makers, and leaders." Daniel Roos notes that the emergence of a powerful technology such as the automobile, which influenced urban design and economic growth, led to a vast increase in engineering systems scale and complexity. The widening scope of contemporary engineering projects means that engineers must "find the best solution that satisfies all stakeholders." Today, "just understanding technology is not sufficient….it requires a broader understanding of organizational and contextual implications." Finally, James Champy chides industry for its "hesitancy and cynicism about new ideas and instead, its obsession with costs."

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