In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further [than others], it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Newton’s words remain as relevant today as when he first composed them. By succinctly capturing both the cumulative nature of scientific advancement and technology’s central role in shaping the future, Newton’s quotation is both instructive and illuminating.
IEEE’s history is replete with giants on whose shoulders we stand today. We count among them our past presidents Alexander Graham Bell, William R. Hewlett (Hewlett Packard), and Edward Weston (Westinghouse). Our member roll of Nobel laureates includes such names as Marconi (1909 for wireless telegraphy), Shockley (1956 for the transistor), Kilby (2000 for the integrated circuit), Boyle (2009 for the charge-coupled device), and Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura (2014 for blue LEDs).
Whether it yields paradigm-shifting breakthroughs or furthers the continuum of technological progress, our work has a direct positive impact on the quality of human life.
In 1971, computing giant Alan Kay coined the oft-quoted phrase “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” For more than six generations, that is precisely what IEEE and its members have done. Together, we have connected the power of technology to the betterment of human well-being and quality of life. Essentially, IEEE and its predecessor societies have made the future brighter and the world a better place for 132 years; and that tradition continues.
Naturally, when I speak of IEEE’s positive global impact, the important work of the IEEE Foundation comes to mind. The foundation is a full partner in our mission of advancing technology to benefit humanity. In 2015, it gave more than US $4 million to worthy IEEE humanitarian, educational, and opportunity-building initiatives throughout the world.
For example, the EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) in IEEE initiative, a signature program of the IEEE Foundation, engages students in community projects in 17 countries. The foundation raises and provides funds for programs chosen to yield immediate and broad impact and that are sustainable over the long term.
Some 200 IEEE volunteers, together with more than 1,200 university and preuniversity students, have created and implemented systems that have bettered the lives of more than 90,000 people in underserved communities on five continents.
Another IEEE Foundation effort is IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Groups in Humanitarian Technology). SIGHT helps sponsor and promote humanitarian projects by connecting IEEE members so they can work together to help communities in need. There are 76 SIGHT groups around the world.
In Africa, SIGHT and the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology are targeting an international health care crisis in several impoverished areas. They are providing analytic groundwork for a three-year health care “intervention” campaign in rural areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa. The project aims to provide critical yet otherwise unavailable services to save lives and provide people and communities the opportunity to thrive.
Another IEEE Foundation signature program, IEEE Smart Village, provided nearly 20,000 people living in eight of the world’s most energy-deprived communities with access to power.
The foundation also provided financial support to six IEEE sections and two societies in 2015, enabling impactive IEEE projects in the areas of robotics, cybernetics, information theory, imaging technology, geothermal energy, and power grid technology. And looking to the future, the foundation awarded 300 scholarships and grants, empowering students and young professionals to pursue their dreams of being among tomorrow’s technology giants.
On 18 June at Gotham Hall in New York City, IEEE will celebrate the achievements of some of today’s IEEE giants at the IEEE Honors Ceremony. Among those honored will be Life Fellow G. David Forney Jr., recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor, sponsored by the IEEE Foundation; and Fellow Roberto Padovani, who will receive the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Award, sponsored by Nokia Bell Labs.
Forney’s contributions to realizing reliable high-speed data communications and Padovani’s innovations in wireless wideband Internet access are of monumental importance. The collective impact of these two giants has served to enlighten, empower, and connect people and communities throughout the world. What a towering vantage point their shoulders will provide to future generations.
To paraphrase poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, making contributions that allow you to leave the world a better place is the true measure of success. A similar assessment can be made of a company, institution, or association: Is the world a better place for having your organization in it? In IEEE’s case, the answer is a resounding yes. Standing on the shoulders of yesterday’s giants, we create a better tomorrow for people all over the world. It is at once an immensely consequential duty and an extraordinary opportunity.
I am inspired daily by the contributions of IEEE and our members. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your “giants of IEEE” stories. More information about the IEEE Foundation can be found at http://www.ieeefoundation.org.