Friday, January 20, 2017

Is Engineering an Elite Profession?

The word elite is much in vogue these days around the globe.  The word highlights are present conflict between the forces of global populism (i.e., mainly non-college educated working class) versus the notion of ruling elites (i.e., college educated in mainly service sector professions - education, government, banking, medicine, law, and engineering).  This tension and conflict will undoubtedly play out over the coming decades.  Technology will be one of the key drivers of this tension - - advanced robotics, AI advances, and increasing automation will continue to put pressure on job creation in traditional working class jobs.  Engineering will be at the pointy end of the spear on this issue.  We have always been the designers and builders of disruptive job and career changing machines and processes.  It is important that engineers remember an important point - - technology revolutions always take longer than predicted (i.e., self-driving vehicles), but arrive faster than anticipated.

A good article on elites from The Economist.  From the article:

"In China, the influence of engineers is partly explained by history and ideology. In a country where education was buffeted by the tempests of Maoism, engineering was a safer field of study than most. In fact, communist regimes of all stripes have long had a weakness for grandiose engineering projects. The Soviet Union, which also produced plenty of engineer-politicians (including Boris Yeltsin), wanted to reverse the northward flow of some great Russian rivers, for example.

The presence of so many engineer-politicians in China goes hand in hand with a certain way of thinking. An engineer's job, at least in theory, is to ensure things work, that the bridge stays up or the dam holds. The process by which projects get built is usually secondary. That also seems true of Chinese politics, in which government often rides roughshod over critics. Engineers are supposed to focus on the long term; buildings have no merit if they will collapse after a few years. So it is understandable that an authoritarian country like China, where development is the priority and spending on infrastructure is colossal, should push engineers to the top."
 Image result for pictures of automated manufacturing

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