Engineering used in its widest sense is turning an idea into a reality – change making – creating and using tools to accomplish a task or fulfill a purpose. An engineer is not just someone-who-deals-with-engines. Based on the Latin root ingeniarius, old French engignier and middle English engyneour, an engineer is someone who is ingenious in solving practical problems.
Once tools were simple common sense – we can easily see how a hammer, plough and even the water wheel, windmill and bicycle work. The internal combustion engine is perhaps more mysterious unless one takes a specific interest. Modern gadgets such as computers, mobile cell phones and the internet are opaque to all but specialists.
Engineering is not only about the way something works and functions – it is also affective – it changes the nature of human relationships. On this website we propose to look very briefly at the role of engineering in satisfying various human needs from the infrastructure of buildings, bridges, water supply and dealing with waste, supplying energy and managing rivers and coastlines. We cover the engineering of wellbeing, communications, chemicals and pharmaceuticals as well as defence and war.
All is not well on Planet Earth. We have become so good at making changes and improving our lives that most climate scientists say we are close to triggering multiple tipping points – thresholds for abrupt and irreversible changes to the climate causing extreme weather events. If they are right (and the science is the best we have) we face considerable uncertainty ahead.
But challenges also create opportunities if we learn to recognise them – but we’ll need to change our change making. A purpose of this website is to help create a new perspective of what engineering is, what it has done for us in the past and what it can and cannot do for us in the future. In short engineering synergy through the sharing of ideas and a better understanding of complex systems.
The adage ‘Save the Planet’ has to be the most misleading ever. The planet will be fine – what is under threat is our collective future wellbeing. We have to come to terms with some newly emerging ideas.
First, in the 21st century, we are beginning to realise that the world is a much more uncertain and complex place than we thought it was.
Second we are discovering that we actually know with less certainty what we thought we knew. If you need proof then just think of all the events that have not turned out as we expect despite all of the efforts of our best ‘experts’. Surprises such as 9/11, the banking crisis of 2008, climate change and the rise of populism in 2016.
Third, to handle this new understanding of the nature of complexity many people are saying that we need to improve how we learn how to learn together.
Fourth, to do that then we have collectively to understand better what we are doing when we are making changes. More than ever before in human history we need to value practical wisdom.