I am worried that engineering has become a mechanism for financial returns in an economic system that values profit above everything with the result that many engineers are unwittingly, or perhaps in a few cases wittingly, supporting the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few capitalists. At the start of the industrial revolution, when engineering innovation started to make a difference to the way we live and work, very few engineers foresaw the impact on the planet of the large scale provision to society of products and services. Nowadays most engineers understand the consequences for the environment of their work; however, many feel powerless to make substantial changes often because they are constrained by the profit-orientated goals of their employer or feel that they play a tiny role in a complex system. Complex systems are often characterised by self-organisation in which order appears without any centralised control or planning and by adaptation to change and experience. Such systems are familiar to many engineers and perhaps they do not, but should, think of the engineering profession as complex system capable of adaptation and self-organisation in which the actions and decisions of individual engineers will cause the emergence of a new order. Our individual impact might be tiny but by acting we influence others to act and the cumulative effect will emerge in ways that no one can predict – that’s emergence for you.
The first industrial revolution occurred towards the end of the 18th century with the introduction of steam power and mechanisation. The second industrial revolution took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and was driven by the invention of electrical devices and mass production. The third industrial revolution was brought about by computers and automation at the end of the 20th century. The fourth industrial revolution is happening as result of combining physical and cyber systems. It is also called Industry 4.0 and is seen as the integration of additive manufacturing, augmented reality, Big Data, cloud computing, cyber security, Internet of Things (IoT), simulation and systems engineering. Most organisations are struggling with the integration process and, as a consequence, are only exploiting a fraction of the capabilities of the new technology. Revolutions are, by their nature, disruptive and those organisations that embrace and exploit the innovations will benefit while the existence of the remainder is under threat [see [‘The disrupting benefit of innovation’ on May 23rd, 2018].
Our work on the Integrated Nuclear Digital Environment, on Digital Twins, in the MOTIVATE project and on hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology is all part of the revolution.
Links to these research posts:
‘Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?’ on January 28th, 2015
‘Can you trust your digital twin?’ on November 23rd, 2016
‘Getting Smarter’ on June 21st, 2017
‘Hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology’ [March 14th, 2018]
Image: Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Industry_4.0.png [CC BY-SA 4.0].