In This Issue
The Bridge: 50th Anniversary Issue
January 7, 2021 Volume 50 Issue S
This special issue celebrates the 50th year of publication of the NAE’s flagship quarterly with 50 essays looking forward to the next 50 years of innovation in engineering. How will engineering contribute in areas as diverse as space travel, fashion, lasers, solar energy, peace, vaccine development, and equity? The diverse authors and topics give readers much to think about!

Editors' Note: Bridges to the Future

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Author: Ronald Latanision and Cameron Fletcher

We are delighted to celebrate the 50th year of publication of the NAE’s flagship quarterly with this special issue featuring 50 essays looking forward to the next 50 years of innovation in engineering.

From its early days as a 4-page member newsletter, The Bridge has evolved to a thematic quarterly with a distribution of some 7000 individuals around the country and the world. Focus areas are suggested by both members and nonmembers, and guest editors for each issue line up topics and experts to provide effective coverage of the selected subject. In addition, when possible we accommodate unsolicited submissions, which lately have come from engineering students, a welcome voice in our pages.

Recognizing that our lives today are profoundly affected by technology—much of which was not even envisioned 50 years ago—for this issue we call on the curiosity and imagination of engineers and others to express their vision of our technological future. We lead off with a keynote essay, “Temptations of Technocracy in the Century of Engineering” by Sheila Jasanoff, calling for emphasis on both innovation and responsibility as we look forward to the next 50 years. Engineering and technology will continue to serve social purposes, and everyone will benefit from more inclusion and deliberation as new technologies are introduced into daily life and the social fabric.

The following invited papers explore technical, philosophical, regulatory, historical, and societal aspects and impacts of engineering efforts to contribute to quality of life. They consider achievements, possibilities, and challenges in engineering “writ large”—from space exploration, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, plastics, and quantum computing to fashion, finance, equity, and peace. Topics also include a number of the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering, such as efforts to engineer the tools of scientific discovery, make solar energy economical, develop carbon sequestration methods, and provide access to clean water, among others. In the absence of an organizing theme, the papers are presented in alphabetical order by author.

At times innovations have yielded unintended consequences, and we are very pleased that NAE president John Anderson addresses this perennial concern in his column. It is a crucial consideration as technology increasingly pervades daily life, living spaces—and even, as projected here, the human body.

In identifying contributors, we sought to enlist a variety of voices to represent the exquisite diversity of perspectives that will ensure a robust future for engineering. The authors are men and women of all races and range in age from 30 to 95; they are in business, academia, and government; from all parts of the country and a few other countries besides; and they include elected members of all three academies. 

Finally, we are enormously grateful to Asad Madni and Ming Hsieh for their generous funding of this issue, which would not exist without their support.

We hope you enjoy and learn from this collection of eye-opening, thoughtful, and thought-provoking essays, and we welcome your feedback.

About the Author:Ronald M. Latanision (NAE) is a senior fellow at Exponent. Cameron H. Fletcher is managing editor of The Bridge.