The Entrepreneurial Engineer

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Engineering identity in the postmodern world

Andrew Fox at Philosophy of Engineering is blogging about the identity crisis of engineering in our brave new world (here). Many of the concerns of that post resonate with the themes of The Entrepreneurial Engineer.

Engineers of our times must be more broadly capable than Cold War engineers. Engineering educators and leaders of our times need to be more reflective on the foundations and underpinnings of engineering, and they must grasp the opportunities to bridge engineering to the social sciences and the humanities. The key distinctive feature of our times is the interconnection of a large segment of the world's population, the cache of data about human preferences and behavior that this network creates, and the possibility of moving from qualitative and statistical modes of reasoning about human affairs to a new kind of engineering knowledge that is quantitative and sufficiently predictive to enable better postmodern systems design.

Engineers of the Cold War concentrated their efforts on designing physical systems that obeyed natural laws. Engineers of the postmodern era will need to learn to concentrate their efforts on designing institutional facts (in Searle's sense) integrated with physical devices that serve the needs of diverse, distributed populations around the globe.

These efforts requires solid engineering metaphysics, epistemology, and a deeper concern for the logic of invention. They will also strain our Cold War notions of engineering ethics as well. For these reasons, and many more, a better concern for the philsophy of engineering is crucial at this juncture in time.
My view is that the crisis is worse than Fox suggests. and I doubt that the remedies suggested will be of much


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