In This Issue
Winter Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 14, 2018 Volume 48 Issue 4

Editor's Note: New Perspectives on Engineering

Friday, December 14, 2018

Author: Ronald Latanision

Each year the winter issue of The Bridge focuses on the US symposium of the NAE’s exciting Frontiers of Engineering (FOE) program. As Jennifer West, chair of the Organizing Committee, observes in her guest editor’s note, this unique program provides an opportunity “to facilitate cross-disciplinary exchange and promote the transfer of new techniques and approaches across fields in order to sustain and build US innovative capacity.”

Also in this issue, I am pleased to present three contributions that I believe will be of interest to our readers.

Guru Madhavan and Charles Phelps (NAM) write about human factors of democracy, looking at one of the most cherished attributes of a civil society: voting. They consider underlying human factors in order to -better understand the meaningfulness of voting methods from a user’s standpoint: “The use of engineering design tools can not only enable more expressive public opinion for important decisions but also lead the way toward scientifically informed choice systems, thereby improving public policy decisions and, ultimately, democracy.”

Technology opens new doors every day. Yet it seems to me that we have not paid nearly enough attention to the social science/human factors dimension in the evolution of engineering systems. Meera Sampath and Pramod Khargonekar focus on the development of automation and introduce the concept of socially responsible automation (SRA). They recognize that technical progress is part of our culture and that the key is to implement measures that enable technologists, business leaders, and the workforce to benefit from these transformative technologies. To that end they provide a systematic, structured way to frame choices, assign priorities, and design robust strategies. To illustrate, they discuss the role of artificial intelligence with the goal that SRA will inspire and help shape a future where automation and AI work for all.

The intellectual infrastructure represented by the engineering research and education programs in our universities is one of this nation’s greatest assets. The leadership of these programs is crucial and the selection of the academic leader, the dean, is therefore a high priority. Richard Skinner describes the paths to the deanship in US engineering programs. In the context of the continuing and essential effort to diversify both the student population and the faculty, he focuses his study on the characteristics of -signatories to a recent ASEE diversity commitment, the goal of which is “to provide increased opportunity to pursue meaningful engineering careers to women and other under-represented demographic groups.”

Extending our series of interviews with engineers who add to our culture in a multiplicity of ways, the featured interviewee in this issue is pro golfer Maverick McNealy, who received his BS in management science and engineering from Stanford in 2017. He explains how he brings an engineering perspective to his game and equipment.

Looking ahead, I’m pleased to announce that in the spring 2019 issue we will introduce a new column, EES Interface, that will consider the ethical dimensions of topics treated in each issue. The column will be managed by the new director of the NAE Center for Engineering Ethics and Society (CEES), Rosalyn Berne (introduced in the fall issue, p. 84). Engineering systems include technical, economic, social, and public safety risks and considerations that should be part of all engineers’ decision making. With this column we will address these considerations. We welcome and look forward to working with Ros.

The next issue will focus on technologies in support of aging. With the growth of aging populations in this and many developed countries, the emergence of increasingly sophisticated technologies and users, and the confluence of the desire for independence and technologies available to facilitate and enhance both independence and quality of life, the topic is compelling and relevant.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback at I hope this issue might stimulate the kind of conversation that is high on my list of priorities for The Bridge.

About the Author:Ronald Latanision (NAE) is a senior fellow with Exponent, Inc.