This Month’s Question
Is Your Job Secure?
News outlets in recent months have reported that IBM, HP, Microsoft, Panasonic, Nokia, and other high-tech companies laid off thousands of employees. But some observers call those reports exaggerated. One tech news publication wrote that layoff figures are deceptive because most refer to the elimination of already vacant positions or ones that are new and as yet unfilled. What’s more, some engineers are in demand, such as those needed for smart power grids, alternative energy, and other green projects.
Just how secure do you feel about your job?
Respond to this question
by e-mail or regular mail. Space may not permit publication of all responses, but we’ll try to draw a representative sample. Responses will appear in the September issue of The Institute and may be edited for brevity. Suggestions for questions are welcome.
Responses to March's Question
Engineering the Future
Earlier this year, IEEE members chose dozens of engineering breakthroughs they regarded as No. 1—including the transistor, electric power, and the Internet—since IEEE’s birth 125 years ago. In March we looked to the future. Experts and science-fiction writers have suggested that the next century could witness technology for controlling the weather, unlimited renewable energy, a space elevator, and the oft-predicted teleportation of human beings and the flying car.
What do you see as the top engineering breakthrough in the next 125 years?
I look forward to a practical, limitless, nonpolluting fusion-power capability. We could then eliminate or manage global warming and support limitless population growth with mile-high buildings. We also could pipe desalinated ocean water anywhere to make even the deserts bloom, launch hazardous nuclear waste to the sun, and avoid war because everybody would have enough of everything.
We should continue with other nations to fund an international effort to develop fusion energy, recognizing that it will probably take 50 to 100 years to make this technology a reality. Our great-great-grandchildren will need it.
Maybe the prospect of fusion power and the resulting wealth will also help us avoid a nuclear showdown.
In the past, most innovation resulted from the convergence of various technologies and scientific discoveries, especially in the fields of electricity, energy, and material science. Planes, cars, computers, and even nuclear weapons are apt examples. Fields such as biology, information sciences, and the human-machine interface also will be combined to create technologies that work with a collection of societal, industrial, and possibly ecological grids.
In the future, the expansion and convergence of different technologies will accelerate.
Bukit Jalil, Malaysia
Genes and Space Flight
A medical discovery in the understanding of biological processes would allow doctors to reprogram a human body to combat disease, cure allergies, and strengthen muscles.
Sadly, it probably will take a war to push scientists and engineers to come up with a breakthrough to defend against a biological attack.
A more likely breakthrough would be in the area of space propulsion. I also foresee the development of a regenerative fuel system that makes it possible to sustain a colony on the moon.
A very large, low-cost-per-square-meter, space-based solar collection system with efficient energy transfer back to Earth. The atmosphere blocking the sunlight would then not be a problem, and there would be no concern about using up real estate.
Free for All
An open-spectrum-access policy. The logical culmination of the current work being done on dynamic spectrum access and cognitive radio has the potential to create an Internet in the sky. We would finally have freedom to transmit what data we want, where we want it, and how we want it.
Bio- and genetic engineering. Since the dawn of agriculture, man has domesticated plants and animals, thus leading to an enormous population increase.
However, traditional methods of bioengineering are slow and require generations to develop modified organisms. With a full understanding of the genetic mechanisms of life, humans will be able to design and engineer organisms to suit their needs. Organically grown products will replace man-made or man-modified products, and there will be a shift from the use of inorganic materials such as metals and silicon to grown carbon-based materials.
The field of inexpensive high-efficiency photovoltaics combined with an enhanced electric grid will be the top breakthrough in energy.
In the environment, the ability to use robotic elements to sort refuse and recycle will lower our dependence on raw materials and nonrenewable energy.