Engineers Are Not Given The Proper Intellectual Tools

It’s a truism to remark how much our world is becoming increasingly technological, exponentially complex.
The pace of change is evident in our everyday experience. From the grand feats of transcontinental flight to the mundane tasks of flushing the toilet to the seemingly miraculous joy of accessing the world’s knowledge through the smartphone in your pocket, we are at once passive and active participants in a landscape that has become progressively mechanized, digitized, and automated.

Behind the scenes, this technical infrastructure is being planned, designed, constructed and maintained largely by one type of person: the engineer. Whether we realize it or not, it is the humble engineer who now forms the clay which moulds not only our external environment, but also our mind’s interior realm. As we enter the geological era known as the Anthropocene, the engineer has also become, perhaps unwittingly, an ecological force on a planetary scale.

There’s just one problem: at almost no point in their education, training, or practice are engineers given the proper intellectual tools with which to reflect, in any meaningful way, on themselves, each other, or their world-transforming enterprise. Engineers, and the general public, rarely stop to ask: “Should we do this, simply because we can? Is this actually good for the betterment of humanity or for the planet?”

Questions about value, virtue, beauty and justice cannot be factored into any of the engineer’s equations and so are easily dismissed. Yet, for anyone with eyes to see, the connections between engineering and the good life are obvious.