J. HERBERT HOLLOMON
Throughout the nation, speakers like myself are commemorating National Engineers Week by giving their views of the great challenges facing engineering. My recent association with engineering has been brief. I came to General Electric's General Engineering Laboratory less than a month ago, drawn, in part, by the challenges facing us and our society. Thus, I turn my attention from science to engineering —from understanding to doing. Having had so little time to examine the details of current engineering problems, I was afraid and almost unwilling to describe the challenges, or prescribe how you and I might meet them. However, the consequences of our failure to overcome the ones I do see are so great, I have the temerity to try to tell you about them—and to encourage young men and women to grid for the fray.
Recent years have seen remarkable changes in our way of life—in our wealth, in our reduced supply of national resources, in our relative economic and military power, and in the aspirations of the poorer peoples of the world.
We have seen the fruits of nuclear research as fission and fusion atomic bombs. We engineered the first nuclear-powered submarine and “sailed” it under
This paper was presented at a joint meeting of regional engineering groups commemorating National Engineers Week, Schenectady, New York, 23 February 1960. Dr. Hollomon was at that time director of General Electric's General Engineering Laboratory in Schenectady.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE Appendix B Engineering's Great Challenge—The 1960s J. HERBERT HOLLOMON Throughout the nation, speakers like myself are commemorating National Engineers Week by giving their views of the great challenges facing engineering. My recent association with engineering has been brief. I came to General Electric's General Engineering Laboratory less than a month ago, drawn, in part, by the challenges facing us and our society. Thus, I turn my attention from science to engineering —from understanding to doing. Having had so little time to examine the details of current engineering problems, I was afraid and almost unwilling to describe the challenges, or prescribe how you and I might meet them. However, the consequences of our failure to overcome the ones I do see are so great, I have the temerity to try to tell you about them—and to encourage young men and women to grid for the fray. Recent years have seen remarkable changes in our way of life—in our wealth, in our reduced supply of national resources, in our relative economic and military power, and in the aspirations of the poorer peoples of the world. TECHNOLOGICAL EXPANSION We have seen the fruits of nuclear research as fission and fusion atomic bombs. We engineered the first nuclear-powered submarine and “sailed” it under This paper was presented at a joint meeting of regional engineering groups commemorating National Engineers Week, Schenectady, New York, 23 February 1960. Dr. Hollomon was at that time director of General Electric's General Engineering Laboratory in Schenectady.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE the North Pole—a triumph of our ability to guide man without seeing the stars. Supersonic flight became a reality, and jet-powered aircraft make four-hour trips to the West Coast. Television viewing became a national pastime and its industry so important that Congress has undertaken to investigate it. Changes came at such a rapid pace that tranquilizers, unknown before 1954, have more than 20 million jittery users today. Research in medicine has had dramatic consequences. Infectious diseases have been brought under control by antibiotics. The vaccines promise to eliminate crippling polio. Research on cancer and heart disease give promise of eliminating these great killers, bringing to man more than his three score and ten, with the attendant problems of an aging people and the population explosion in Asia, Africa, and South America—and a public debate on birth control. The mechanization of industry largely through the use of electric power has lightened our work load and given us the leisure to enjoy all manner of recreation—and created new industries to satisfy our senses. PLANNED INNOVATION These great changes have come largely from a new resource only recently discovered and not yet understood or controlled—from research and development—from science and modern engineering. We are learning how to produce innovation—change—progress—at will. The process portends a way of life as revolutionary as the concept of the importance and dignity of man that wrought the Renaissance, and as forceful as the concept of capital formation that initiated the industrial revolution. From the birth of our country on July 4, 1776, until today, February 23, 1960, a total of $108 billion has been spent on research and development in this country. Half of these expenditures were made since February 5, 1955—a scant five years ago. We have spent as much money on research and development in the last five years—$54 billion —as was spent in the 178 years between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the first use of tranquilizers! The amount predicted to be spent in the single year 1960 is $15 billion. If this accelerating activity is to serve society and fulfill man 's dreams, we must learn to use it to his benefit and to prevent the devastation of its uncontrolled consequence. This is a challenge of great moment. What are the problems that our new world faces? We are constantly reminded of the general destruction possible from the use of atomic weapons. Adequate means of monitoring and detecting atomic explosions might make possible agreement between the great powers and the control of nuclear weapons.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENGINEERS The growing population and the mechanization of industry have produced hugh urban centers—one, for example, extends from Boston to Norfolk —with all their problems. We can fly from New York City to San Francisco in about four hours but have difficulty in making the trip from New York to Long Island in the same time. Air pollution in some cities is so extreme that it threatens public health. Water, in some areas, is so scarce that an artificial and economic means of recovering it from the sea is imperative. The growth of the cities has created such housing problems that many of our people live in horrible slums. Engineers will design computers that will think like men—and faster— and relieve us from laborious mental tasks. They will make possible rational control of vast enterprises. The impact of this automation has already begun to affect labor relations, as in the recent steel strike, and will radically change our industrial labor system. In recent years, Europeans and Japanese, recovering from postwar devastation with American aid, have seemed to use the new technology faster and more effectively than have we. As a result of the low cost of their labor and the speed with which they engineer new products, they have begun to threaten some of American industry with foreign competition. To meet this competition is another challenge of engineering. To the astonishment of the world Russia built the hydrogen bomb years sooner than we predicted, and we blamed it on spies. She then launched the space age and, in the eyes of the rest of the world, toppled Uncle Sam from his pedestal of technological superiority—and with a satellite larger than we've been able to launch years later. The Russian intercontinental ballistic missile deposed the American bomber from its prime position as the final strategic weapon. The consequent lag in defense is still a subject for national argument and is a challenge to the management of engineering. The Russians not only recovered from a devastating war, exploded hydrogen bombs, built space ships, constructed a modern steel industry and an electric power system, educated vast numbers of engineers dedicated to their society, but also gave a dream to the world's poor and the exploited of a new and prosperous world that competes with the American idyl. The great masses of Africa, Asia, and South America, seeing our planes and our prosperous people and hearing our radio, cry out for a “ place in the sun.” They are jealous of our wealth and our luxuries and resent our air of superiority. Their problem is to build a new world using the tools of modern technology, but tuned to their needs and to their conditions —a dam at Aswan, a steel mill for India, bricks for Africa, insecticides for Indochina, tools for Argentina. To do these things requires an understanding of modern engineering and a supply of the capital of trained people that the poor cannot yet afford—and which we must furnish.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE These people and their aspirations present new problems to be solved and new engineering to be done. From all sides there are cries for financial and engineering help to meet the needs of their people. These are cries first for survival, then for political, cultural and religious opportunity. WHO CAN BEST MEET THE CHALLENGE? And with their appreciation of technology and their dramatic demonstration of technical achievements, the Russians are convincing these people that the Soviet Union can better meet their needs and support their aspirations than can the West. Khrushchev has said that Russia intends to defeat us in peaceful competition. It is not only a competition in aid and advice to the underdeveloped countries but a competition in trade. America will face products made with Russian labor paid about one-tenth as much as ours and with prices controlled by the state. As a recent American visitor comments, “A strange thought crosses your mind: a future Russia emerging from the Iron Curtain, and America withdrawing behind the Dollar Curtain, priced out of the market, left trading with itself. ‘Could it be?' you ask yourself.” When I was in Russia, I asked as many people as I could to tell me of their dreams. A typical answer was: “To build a free and peaceful world where people may be happy and prosperous and express the highest aspirations of man.” And this too, is a challenge. But do all these challenge engineering? Many of these great changes of our time have come directly from science —from new discoveries about nature. These direct applications of science and the vast research and development have confused the primary roles of science and engineering. The success of the missile firing is announced, according to the papers, by a “scientist” and the failure is a failure of science. Historically, the translation of scientific discovery to use has taken decades. The steam engine and the airplane were developed from principles of mechanics long known to scientists. Steinmetz and Edison used principles of electricity proved valid years before to found the electrical industry. On the other hand, the results of nuclear physics were almost directly applied to the construction of a self-sustaining nuclear reactor, to atomic bombs, and to nuclear electric power stations. A new discovery of the behavior of solids led to the transistor, a new miniature electronic device—a solid vacuum tube. Both of these developments were direct but unanticipated and unpredicted contributions to society from science. In order to create and be alert to the exceptional, useful consequences of discovery in science, industry has created scientific research laboratories such as ours at the Knolls. These advances and others like them have led people to think of science in terms of its applications, playing the role of satisfying man 's needs. The prime
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE and unique purpose of science, that of seeking knowledge and understanding for its own sake, is diluted and the only vehicle for satisfying man's curiosity about his world is damaged. Engineering, whose primary purpose is to satisfy man's needs and meet the physical challenges of his world, is eclipsed. The engineer uses art and science to make matter and power useful to man. To call both of these key activities by the same name dilutes both to the disadvantage of each. Young men and women willing to dedicate themselves to the service of man in either learning or doing science or engineering have no clear call to service. Professor Morgan of Yale reminds us that the search for truth is a revolutionary activity. “The search for it again and again overturned beliefs of long standing, in science, in religion, and in politics. ” To commit science to solving utilitarian problems will threaten free inquiry and destroy the seeds of innovation that may alter the direction of human life. ROLE OF ENGINEERING NOT RECOGNIZED The failure to recognize the role of engineering likewise makes it difficult to attract young people to a great human activity, to get the job done, to build the rockets now, using the available resources without waiting for the next bit of scientific discovery, to build the bridges when they're needed, to make the tools to heal the sick, and to go to the moon. It is the job of engineering to devise the means of feeding, housing, and protecting society, of improving the means of communication and transportation, of meeting the challenges of space, of exploiting automation, and of helping underprivileged people. It is to these challenges that engineering should direct itself. To meet such challenges in these times will require changes in the whole of engineering. Modern science generates new knowledge so rapidly that the education of engineers must be deepened and broadened to appreciate and use it, and yet not become all science without focus on society. Already the electrical engineer, for example, is likely to be concerned with the structure of crystals and the role of computers in industrial operations. The civil engineer must understand both the potentialities of data processing and the complexities of radioactive waste disposal. The mechanical engineer is confronted with the need for machines which operate at both temperatures near absolute zero and those of man-made suns. This rapid advance and this complexity are causing drastic changes in engineering education. Within a few years advanced training will be required of all engineers, and ways will have to be found to continue their education throughout their careers so that they can effectively use the new science to serve society. It is the responsibility of engineering to create from science the new tools—to develop the new technology—just as it is the responsibility of science to show the way for its first use.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE To use the new technology will also require research—research aimed at adding that information and understanding needed to get the job done. The engineering of rockets demands information about high temperature materials— about gyros—and about high vacua. The development of computers needs to be based on information, derived from engineering, on the behavior of complex electronic systems and of semiconductor devices. The requirements of modern man as well as his curiosity stimulate investigation. To be a professional engineer and to attract young people to this great calling, it is not enough, though important, to gather together in engineering societies and associations. A professional is one who feels a personal and individual sense of responsibility of dedication. RESPONSIBILITY OF THE INDIVIDUAL Each of us must explore the role of engineering and assume individual responsibility for high performance and excellence. We must come to understand science, its importance to society and to support it and use it. We can take a personal interest in community engineering problems —in city planning, in slum clearance, and in water pollution. We can even attack international problems without waiting for the government. Here at home, some two dozen technical people, realizing their responsibilities to society and, incidentally, having fun doing it, have formed the MASE Technical Consultation Committee. They are offering technical assistance to underdeveloped countries—and on their own time. They perform four kinds of services. They prepare reports on engineering requirements such as that on solar cooking for Iran; they develop specific devices, as a methane-burning refrigerator for Brazil; they answer questions like that from a missionary in Peru interested in the operation of suction pumps at high altitudes; and they help various foreign groups find out about similar problems in other countries. Here is the American spirit at its best. NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING But the work of individuals and of the professional societies is still not enough to clarify the role of engineering, make it more effective in our national life, or attract young people to it. I, therefore, propose that a National Academy of Engineering be established through an act of Congress. It would consist of several hundred engineers. The Academy should be analogous to the National Academy of Sciences which was set up by Congress and approved by President Lincoln in 1863, another time of ferment. The National Academy of Sciences, though representing both science and engineering at the highest level of government, has only about 10 percent
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE of its members with background in engineering, and the role of engineering is submerged or obscured. The charter of this new academy would direct that it shall, whenever called upon by any department of the government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of engineering. A National Engineering Council would be established as a principal agency of the new Academy of Engineering. This council would be charged with promoting engineering and encouraging the application and dissemination of engineering information, using where possible the present professional and technical societies. Neither the Academy nor the Council would control engineering or industry, but together they would permit the assembly of the best engineering advice for national affairs, and would strengthen the unity of purpose that engineering and engineering societies are establishing. The Academy would represent and honor the million engineers of our country. BENEFITS TO SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING This Academy of Engineering would strengthen and benefit both science and engineering so that they, like Damon and Phythias, would stand and aid each other and thereby better serve the nation. Let me now quote from Semonov of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.: “The power of contemporary science and technology is such that they can, in principle, provide the highest level of well-being for all people on the globe. But capitalist society is organically incapable, by virtue of private vested interests, of fixing this goal as an organized aim of society and state.” I believe that engineers will not fail to accept this supreme challenge to our way of life. We—you and I—must meet it.