Humanitarian Technology…and Moore

Consider helping your community with projects that are within your professional endeavors

8 March 2013

pstaecker
Photo: IEEE

Moore’s Law is as ubiquitous to members of our professional community as the right-hand rule. Starting as an observation of the exponential growth of the number of transistors on ICs, it has been applied to many other aspects of our electrotechnical art, and today is a guiding principle and metric for the digital IC industry. Thus, futurists have used Moore’s Law as a basic argument for the coming of the singularity, the smarter-than-human intelligence made possible by technology, and with good reason.

Our community is no longer defined by the physical borders of our homes or work spaces. Family, friends, colleagues, and mentors can be reached at a moment’s notice through modes of communication largely in their infancy just a generation ago. What further improvements can we expect in the next 10 to 15 years?

Despite the fact that technology can unite the farthest reaches of our world, some 2 billion people, approximately a quarter of the world’s population, have no access to any of it. Education, health care, reliable power, and clean water are but a few items on a regrettably long list of needs still largely unmet.

As a global leader within our professional community, IEEE is uniquely positioned to facilitate fulfillment of those needs. At any given moment, thousands of you—my fellow IEEE members—are working on projects to benefit families, communities, and ultimately, humanity. Sometimes your efforts spread across IEEE sections; often, they reach other nations and continents. Technology, and a desire to help improve the lives of others, brings us together.

Likewise, we have thousands of IEEE members working tirelessly within government, academia, and the global business community to build engineering capacity within regions and nations. Their efforts in the classroom, the boardroom, and the civic arena are helping to nurture and shape the next generation of engineering professionals and leaders.

Which brings us to an apparent quandary: how to choose among the many ways to enrich the lives of others while confronting the reality of finite resources. What is the proper allocation of money, time, and expertise to efforts that will improve the lives of a comm­unity of thousands or to efforts that will improve the availability and quality of engineering edu­cation for students throughout a nation?

You can argue—with equal passion and reason—that either endeavor is the “right” place to dedicate personnel, funding, and focus. Or we can engage in both endeavors.

Right now, IEEE’s members are busy doing both—and more. We have the capacity to attack problems from many perspectives and are doing so. The “right” allocation of time, funding, and knowledge is a choice I leave to each of you.

Your desire to help others may lead you to work on a telemedicine project that brings a remote village in Peru into closer contact with a large hospital in a Peruvian city. It may lead you to meet with decision makers in a nation’s legislative body. It may lead you to foster interest in engineering among tomorrow’s possible technologists in a local classroom. Or it may lead you to develop a simple but elegant method of purifying contaminated groundwater. All of these paths are equally noble, equally impactful, equally important—and equally yours to choose.

In recent years, I have been fortunate to meet many of you who have already chosen a path and are actively advancing technology to benefit humanity. I commend you for your actions. Your work on grassroots technology projects in Africa, Haiti, India, Peru, Thailand, and other places has made a tremendous difference. Likewise, the initiatives you have implemented to maximize engineering education in your region or nation have fostered countless opportunities for future technologists.

I ask the following of my fellow IEEE members not currently involved in such activities: Consider helping your community with projects that are within your professional endeavors. Consider the papers you have authored, the conferences you have attended, and the advances you have made in your chosen field, and see if the knowledge you gained from any of them can help your community.

Finally, consider the increases in connectivity of our modern world and ask yourself if you can do even more. I believe it is possible to do more, and I urge you to do so.

If you are uncertain how to take part in initiatives that benefit our profession and the community, reach out to a fellow IEEE member or volunteer already engaged in such activities. You will be pleased you did; those whom your efforts assist will be even more pleased.

I welcome your thoughts and questions. E-mail me at president@ieee.org.

pstaecker Peter Staecker
IEEE President and CEO

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