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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE The Social Function of Engineering: A Current Assessment GEORGE BUGLIARELLO Engineering affects virtually every aspect of our society and engages a substantial set of the population in carrying out engineers' plans and designs. But what is the nature of that activity? What is the role of engineering in responding to society's needs as well as in shaping them? How well does engineering carry out that role? These questions are being asked with increasing urgency by a society that has benefited from great advances in technology, and at the same time, seen dislocations and experienced fears associated with technology—a society that has become increasingly dependent on technology, but also increasingly ambivalent about it. Often the questions about technology are confused with questions about engineering in the mind of the public despite a growing literature on the relation of technology to the rest of society. 1 , 2 In recent years several symposia by the National Academy of Engineering and other engineering organizations, as well as various reports and articles have addressed aspects of this relationship (Chalk, 1988; Christensen, 1987; Corcoran, 1982; National Academy of Engineering, 1970, 1974, 1980, 1988; National Research Council, 1985). In general, however, the voice of engineers in the discussion of engineering 's social role has been weak, episodical, and often self-centered. The assessment of engineering's impact on society has been largely left to other disciplines. Social scientists and philosophers who have studied the technological process have achieved a considerable level of sophistication. However, because of a lack of dialogue with engineers, they too have tended to offer an idealized view of the technological process (Bijker et al., 1989; Mumford, 1934). For a
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE nonengineering perspective on the technological process see Durbin (1978—), and Kranzberg and Davenport (1972). The situation is quite different in the sciences. Scientists have written prolifically and in depth about the social role and impact of their activities. Nothing written by engineers is analogous to J. D. Bernal's highly ideological opus The Social Function of Science (1939). SOCIAL IMPACTS OF ENGINEERING Many engineering developments of this century with immense impacts on our lives have not been accompanied by realistic engineering views of those impacts on the social fabric or the environment. Would the societal consequences have been different if engineers had been more involved in a systematic study of engineering's complex role in society, had a working dialogue with social scientists, and had better communication with the public? For instance, could we have anticipated that the automobile would turn out to be a severe source of pollution as well as a powerful instrument of urban change, that radios in every household would catalyze the political emancipation of women, or that television would influence our values and contribute to functional illiteracy? Could we have anticipated that a broader base of affluence brought about by technology in the nations of the West would be accompanied by the rise of anomie and a drug culture among not only the poor and the disenfranchised, but also the more affluent who have in many material ways benefited the most from technology? Could we have anticipated that abundant energy for industries and homes or the invention of plastic materials would have such serious environmental consequences, and that “cleaner” technologies, such as computers, would damage the earth 's ozone layer because of the use of chlorofluorocarbons in the fabrication of microchips? The list of impacts and side effects of technology is long and growing and has contributed to society's ambivalence about technology. While it would be wrong to blame the engineer for the apparent lack of interest by large portions of society in understanding the technological process with its constraints and possibilities, engineers can do much to reduce society's ambivalence if they could overcome their own parochialism. For example, a gap that exists sometime between the perceptions of the engineers and those of the rest of society can be seen in educational technology. Engineers have tended to focus on the development of new technologies rather than the social setting —municipal bureaucracies, school systems, and homes—in which that technology is to become acceptable if it is to be successful (NAE, 1974). Part of the difficulty engineers encounter in dealing with social issues has to do with too many definitions of engineering and the lack of agreed upon and shared tenets. The famous 1828 definition of engineering by the British Institution of Engineering—as the modification of nature (Encyclopaedia
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE Britannica, 1910)—was on the right track but is both too general (as other human activities also modify nature) and too specific in its subsequent detailing of those activities. The kind of definitions that later and to this day seem to have become accepted by many engineers center on the application of science to human welfare. Definitions of this kind fall wide of the mark by remaining too vague about the definition of human welfare and the role of engineering in it. They overlook the essential nature of engineering as a human activity to modify nature (a clear distinction between science and engineering). Furthermore, such definitions are not accompanied by a widely shared set of principles that parallel in power and simplicity the verifiable truth of the scientist, although there have been recent efforts to explore key concepts common to all engineering disciplines (see, among others, Bugliarello, 1989b). An important point in looking at the social function of engineering is how society makes engineering possible. A complex feedback situation emerges. The artifacts extend the power and reach of society and the individual. Society, in turn, through its organizations and demands, makes possible the development of complex artifacts and stimulates their constant technical evolution and diffusion. Today, to talk about the impact of engineering on society is meaningless without also talking about the impact of society on engineering, and how it shapes the role of engineering. The complexity of the interactions between society and engineering is at the root of unrealistic expectations about engineering, as social entities are often inadequately organized to develop and use engineering effectively. It is also at the root of the frustration of engineers unable to bring their capabilities to bear on the solution of social problems or the effective organization of the engineering enterprise. SOCIOLOGY AND EDUCATION OF ENGINEERS To understand how engineering responds to the needs of society, we must examine its social structure and its function. Most people who study engineering in the United States have higher mathematics skills than verbal and social ones. This limits their involvement in politics and their success in communicating with the rest of society. Society, in turn, often views the engineer as a narrow, conservative, numbers-driven person, insensitive to subtle societal issues. The systematic study of sociotechnical problems is rarely included in the engineering curricula as an important sphere of engineering activity. The curriculum focuses on man-made artifacts to the exclusion, except for specialized cases, of biological systems and organisms. This narrow focus has kept engineering away from not only a rich source of inspiration for specific technical feats and lessons offered by systems of great subtlety and complexity, but also a deeper understanding of environmental change. Most high school students today do not view an engineering education as a path to success and prestige worthy of the sacrifices of a rigorous curriculum.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE It is rarely chosen by the offspring of the well-to-do and the socially prominent. Even bright young engineering students, upon graduation, switch to careers in business management, law, and medicine. On the other hand, engineering continues to be a powerful instrument for social mobility and advancement for immigrants and the poor. This situation accentuates the perceived social gap between engineers and other professions in society. It is further reinforced by massive layoffs in defense industries and practices in the construction business that treat engineers more as commodities than as professionals (Jacobs, 1989). In different societies engineering provides most of the same artifacts: shelter, energy and communications, manufacturing, water supply, extraction and use of resources, and disposal of waste. There are societies where engineers carry out broader functions by virtue of the position they hold. In several European and developing countries, they head state organizations and major industry conglomerates, participate in government, and enjoy high social prestige. By contrast, engineers in the United States are absent from major positions of societal leadership, and only a handful serve in Congress, as governors, or at the cabinet level. In the United States the number of engineers per capita is roughly half that of Japan. Coupled with layoffs, this is an indicator of how seriously “underengineered” the United States is. The situation needs to be addressed not only in terms of supply and demand of engineers, but also in terms of the basic structure and direction of the country. In so doing, we must be mindful of historical precedents of decline—like Rome of the third and fourth centuries or the Ottoman Empire of the seventeenth century—which some historians believe started with a decline of interest in technology (de Camp, 1975; Kinross, 1977). The profession is, in a sense, handicapped in terms of serving society in a broader way by a “pecking order” that prizes activities connected with the design of tangible artifacts above the challenges of manufacturing, operations, and maintenance. We need more national and transnational studies of the engineer's origins, careers, institutions, rewards, means of communicating, and so forth to gain a broader understanding of the engineer's role and effectiveness in society. Some of these factors are now receiving attention in the literature out of a concern about engineering ethics (Layton, 1986; Unger, 1982). Social Responsibility The burning question for engineering in extending the outreach of society is: What is responsible outreach? The answer is perhaps best given in evolutionary terms. Man-made artifacts, albeit extensions of our body, have not evolved through the gradual process that has shaped man and other biological species. Thus, we constantly face the question of whether the technology we develop enhances the long-range survival of our species. Because assessing how well engineering carries out its social function lacks the ultimate test of the crucible
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE of evolution, we need to define what we mean by the “social responsibility” of engineering. In the following paragraphs, I offer five guiding principles, some of which are already deeply embedded in the conscience of engineers. Uphold the dignity of man. The dignity of man is an imponderable in terms of a clear evolutionary meaning. However, it is a fundamental value of our society that never should be violated by an engineering design. This happens when the design or operation of a technological product (a building, a machine, a procedure) fails to recognize the importance of individuality, privacy, diversity, and aesthetics and is based on a stereotyped view of a human being. Avoid dangerous or uncontrolled side effects and by-products. The challenge to engineering is how to fulfill its social purpose in ways that either control side effects and by-products or make them more easily foreseeable. This demands a rigorous preliminary examination of how to solve a problem and achieve a given social purpose. The problem is complicated beyond measure by the multitude of pressures leading to the development of a design or a technology —be they political, economic, popular, or intrinsically technological. These pressures can lead to unwise outcomes beyond the ability of engineering to solve, for example, the deferral of municipal maintenance due to constrained budgets or the abandonment of nuclear power plants in some Western countries. Make provisions for consequence when technology fails. The importance of making provisions for the consequences of failure is self-evident, especially in those systems that are complex, pervasive, and place us at great risk if they fail. A simple example is the failure of an air-conditioning system in a closed ventilation system, as occurred tragically in 1990 at Mecca, with the loss of over a thousand lives (Newsweek, 1990). A more complex example is the space shuttle. Because it is the sole vehicle for a multitude of space tasks, any of its failures sets back our position in space. Avoid buttressing social systems that perform poorly and should be replaced. This runs much against the grain of most engineers. Thanks to a multitude of technological and engineering fixes (Weinberg, 1966), our society often avoids rethinking fundamental social issues and organization. However, short-run technological fixes can put us at much greater risk in the long term. In the case of energy, for instance, technological or commercial fixes cannot mask the need to rethink globally the impact of consumerism and the interrelationship of energy, environment, and economic development. Participate in formulating the “why” of technology. At present the engineering profession is poorly equipped to do so both in this country and elsewhere. Few engineers, for instance, have been involved in developing a philosophy of technology—as distinct from that of science—and in teaching the subject in engineering schools. 3 Yet, John Dewey saw the problems of philosophy and those of technology as inseparable at the beginning of this century (Hickman, 1990). This separation of engineering and philosophy affects our entire society. Engineers, in shaping our future, need to be guided by a clearer
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE sense of the meaning and evolutionary role of technology. The great social challenges we face require a rethinking of the human-artifact-society interrelationship and the options it offers us to carry out a growing number of social functions using quasi-intelligent artifacts to instruct, manufacture, inspect, control, and so on. We also need to think through the implications of a shift from energy to information (for example, for issues relating to urban planning and the environment), and the possibilities of “hyperintelligence”—the enhancement of the social intelligence of our species through the interaction of humans and global computer networks (Bugliarello, 1984a, 1988, 1989a). Social Purpose How well does engineering fulfill it social purpose? This apparently simple question presents several problems. Which social group are engineers trying to satisfy? Is it a family, a tribe, a company, a municipality, a nation, or a supernational global entity? It is clear that different groups have different technological needs and expectations, and that if engineering satisfies some groups, it may not satisfy others. What about the needs of the engineers themselves as a social group? A technology that does not respond to the interests of other social groups but serves exclusively its own purposes evinces concerns about autonomous or runaway technology (Winner, 1977). While it is possible to envision such an occurrence for a technological system, the likelihood of runaway engineering is generally remote, if only because engineers, as a cog in the technological system, are unable to be autonomous and “run away” with their designs (Florman, 1987; Veblen, 1921) and are most often subservient to contingent pressures of a social group. The term satisfaction lacks a rigorous definition necessary to describe an engineering response to a particular social need. The dimensions of a social group are a particularly important factor. In the case of small social groups resources are generally too limited to develop anything but the simplest technologies. Even the wealthiest of families today could not, even if they wished it, mount a manned exploration of space. Hence, small social groups, as well as large, unorganized populations, can only use today's technologies, not create them. With this comes the associated danger of alienation from technology or of resentment spurred by limited participation and ignorance. At a national and global scale, there is a similar lack of powerful supranational organizations to mobilize and control technological resources. Hence, the danger of global environmental damage continues. Today, intermediate-size organizations—corporations and governmental bodies—are most effective in mobilizing technology in response to their needs. An important determinant of how well engineering satisfies its social
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE purpose is the breadth of engineering. Engineering today continues overwhelmingly to focus on inanimate artifacts or machines, just as engineering school curricula worldwide continue to bypass sociotechnological integrations like the biomachine—the ever-growing interaction and interpenetration of biological and machine systems. 4 This lopsided orientation grew out of obvious historical origins that have had major consequences for society. The factory environment so single-mindedly rationalized by the engineer F. W. Taylor overlooked the effective integration of the worker—the biological unit—and the machine in the production process. This is so almost everywhere in the world, with the notable exception of Japan, where a different social ethos has produced a more effective integration. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the anomie of the worker in Eastern Europe. Social Needs The various needs of social groups that engineering and technology may be expected to satisfy are educational (mentioned earlier), economic, environmented, health, public service, spiritual, and defense. It is important to underscore that, in seeking to satisfy these needs, engineering cannot be shackled to short-range and narrow technical applications. It must be allowed to explore new extensions of our biological capability. The recurrent conflict between advocates of independent and targeted research is an example and an inevitable result of the tension between short-and long-range needs. If pushed to the extreme, however, such conflicts may cross the boundary between what is socially useful and what is out of control. At the intellectual core of the sluggish and somewhat myopic response of U.S. engineering to environmental needs is the lack of basic environmental principles embedded by education in the consciousness of all engineers. A key principle, for instance, is recognition that any artifact— any alteration of nature— inevitably has an effect on the environment, and particularly on the humans and other living organisms in it. Another key principle is the requirement, as an essential component of the design process, to address those impacts to the satisfaction not only of the engineer and the engineer's employer but also of the general public. The health care system has absorbed an ever-greater portion of our gross national product, regardless of the state of our economic prosperity. At the same time, it has priced itself outside the financial reach of almost 40 million Americans. Technology has abetted the situation, not only by favoring the higher-cost, high-repair segment of the system, but also by not addressing the structure of the system (Bugliarello, 1984b). Similarly the problem of hunger remains endemic in many parts of the globe despite advances in agricultural technology. Even when production is high, in many countries grain supplies rot for lack of effective storage and distribution systems.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE The pattern of technology repeats itself in the way we address problems of infrastructure, education, and poverty, or the problems of the metropolitan areas that now are home to more than 75 percent of our population. For instance, the problem of housing for the poor and homeless in many developing countries as well as in the United States persists despite our knowledge of building techniques and materials. We need to organize a system of production, distribution, self-help, and education to put that knowledge to work for the dispossessed. Technology and science working in concert have demythologized many social and cultural beliefs and left a spiritual no-man's-land. Paradoxically, the very success envisioned by eighteenth-century encyclopedists —man's conquest of nature—has confused our society, sweeping away the certainties of the past and leaving society in need of guidance and new orthodoxies. Cars, airplanes, telecommunications, fast foods, and contraceptives have brought about a drastic restructuring of social customs and processes and a jadedness about technological advances. It may be argued that engineers need to question their cultural responsibility to society as they contribute to its change. This effort must begin in the universities. The task is particularly daunting for the United States, with its thin line of 20,000 engineering teachers of growing disparity in cultural backgrounds. The social role of engineering cannot overlook military engineering — the activity from which modern engineering is derived—as one of the most controversial facets of that role (Mitcham and Siekevitz, 1989). Although military engineering is not viewed by everyone as fulfilling a useful social role, it is crucial for the survival and success of a society. The importance of that social role to the long-term future of a society can be a matter of judgment —and hence open to controversy in the context of a hoped for reduction of military confrontations. The specialist's role of the engineer seems to prevail today—a retreat from the situation in the last century and earlier in this century, when engineers like Herbert Spencer or Vilfredo Pareto took broader views of society and developed new economic, social or political ideas. The dominance, particularly in our country, of the purely technical over the broader role of engineering can be attributed primarily to the sociological characteristics of engineering and to the inadequacy of engineering education in preparing students for broad social leadership. This is so in spite of the fact that the earliest U.S. technological universities hark back conceptually to the model of the French “Ecole Polytechnique,” with its purpose of producing technically prepared leaders. Indeed, it may be argued that the rigorous professionalization of engineering has been achieved in our country at the expense of preparation for broader leadership roles. To reiterate, any attempt to rate the current performance of engineering in the satisfaction of social needs must take into account at least three factors: (1)
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE the fundamental difficulty that engineers encounter in addressing major social problems given a lack of an adequate sociotechnological preparation, (2) the propensity of engineers to find technological fixes for existing social systems rather than to develop and use technological innovations to accomplish needed social change, and (3) the ensuing limited or simplistic views of the social role of engineering. LESSONS LEARNED A current assessment of the purposes, roles, and aspirations for engineering and society suggest some pathways to more effective partnerships: When social systems and technology have been able to complement each other, engineering has been immensely effective in improving human life by augmenting agricultural production, building infrastructure, producing jobs, improving public health, etc. Engineering can best carry out its social purpose when it is involved in the formulation of the response to a social need, rather than just being called to provide a quick technological fix. Often, a technological fix is in the long run counterproductive. The Sahel economy was devastated, at least in part, when local populations were persuaded to abandon animal power for motor-driven vehicles and pumps—only to find them immobilized when the OPEC cartel made fuel inaccessibly expensive. Society and technology—and hence engineering—fail, often spectacularly, when the social system is hostile or unwilling to modify itself to allow technology to operate under the best conditions for producing beneficial results. Nowhere is this more obvious than in societal failures to alleviate problems of hunger, illiteracy, and health care. Engineering can respond to a societal purpose in the measure that such a purpose is well articulated. However, even if well articulated, the social purpose may be detrimental to society and to humankind in general. Engineering, as a force of society, can and should intervene in correcting a social purpose it perceives as detrimental. Historically, this has been very difficult to do. Engineering has tended to respond to the social system in which it is embedded: in market economies it has made unbridled consumerism possible, and in authoritarian regimes it has provided the technological means that reinforce the regimes' power. Whether, even within the framework of existing socioeconomic systems, engineering has served well the social purpose of those systems is a complex question. Engineering, to the extent it has influence on the process, may have failed in this more limited context if a market economy produces consumer goods that do not stand up well to competition or pollute dangerously, or if a nonmarket economy produces artifacts that are shoddy, such as much of public housing in Eastern Europe.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE WHAT IS PAST IS PROLOGUE: THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE In the past 25 years, several major trends have emerged that magnify the social impact of engineering and the challenge to engineering to address pivotal social issues. These trends are too well known and documented to be further underscored here: the sharpening of engineering prowess in the creation of artifacts; the broadening of the social needs that engineering is called to address; geopolitical and economic shifts that are placing new demands on engineering; the coming to the fore of a series of issues of wide societal impact —such as the environment—that stem at least in part from engineering and technology themselves and demand urgent attention. To focus more specifically on the situation today in the United States, it is clear that engineering continues to perform effectively the task of generating new technological ideas. However, with broad exceptions —such as aerospace, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, biotechnology, computers, and telecommunications—U.S. technology has not been very successful in maintaining a strong position against capable and aggressive commercial competitors from abroad (NAE, 1988). This failing brings substantial job losses in manufacturing and raises the fear that the United States, despite its prowess in military technology, is becoming a second-class technological power. It also weakens the nation's ability to respond to the cries for help and to the hopes of the poor and the disenfranchised throughout the world. Engineering has contributed to this situation by its failure to emphasize manufacturing and production in formal engineering education and in the system of professional recognition. That emphasis is being developed, laboriously, only now. U.S. engineering has been slow also in responding to the immense challenges of globalization, and of the environment. The globally spreading networks of designers, factories, research laboratories, data banks, and sales and marketing operations require a new conception of how the engineering enterprise is organized and of how engineers are trained and certified. For instance, the likely development of international teams working around the clock on the same design from different locations will lead to the creation of new engineering specialties. Globalization also means extreme competitiveness, with greater potential instabilities for engineering enterprises and the employment of engineers. But the greatest challenge that globalization presents engineers and engineering education is how to increase throughout the world the rate of technological, economic, and social progress through the creation of new and more adaptable technologies and better sociotechnical integration. Furthermore, U.S. engineering has not participated to any major extent in the development of strategies for the reform of the health care and education systems as two key service activities that together absorb well over 15 percent of our GNP. In the case of health care, engineering has produced a host of
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE innovative technologies, which, applied within the framework of an obsolete system, have added greatly to cost, without correspondingly improving national mortality statistics and access to health care (Bugliarello, 1984b). Similarly, although engineering provides education with powerful tools, it has little impact on an education system that remains largely an artisan enterprise, incapable of reorganizing itself to take full advantage of the great potential offered by systems, information, and telecommunications technology. Engineering also has been absent from the attack on some of the most vexing problems of urban areas. Poverty, drugs, and alienation are all interconnected sociotechnological problems of our cities, with their deteriorating infrastructure and the loss of easily accessible jobs in manufacturing. A further example of engineering acquiescence in the subordination of technological possibilities and common sense is the anarchical situation in the United States concerning telecommunications. The current absence of a plan for the transition to fiber optics may deny the United States, to the advantage of its competitors abroad, the possibility of developing integrated new technologies for the largest telecommunications system and the biggest computer market in the world (Keyworth and Abell, 1990). Contributing to the difficulty of U.S. engineering in addressing major social problems is the limited participation of women and African-American, Hispanic, and Native American minorities in the engineering enterprise. These groups are more squarely in the middle of most of those problems, and bring to engineering an enhanced sensitivity and urgency, as well as broader societal support. Much is being done today to attract women and underrepresented minorities to engineering, but it must be remembered that, as late as the early 1970s, there was a fairly strong opposition among engineers themselves to the recruitment of women (Bugliarello et al., 1972). The recruitment of minorities at that time was also limited, as it continues to be today despite major efforts over the intervening 20 years. It has been said that this is the first generation in the history of the United States that has lost the hope of being better off than the previous generation. That view is too sweeping. Consider, for example, the immigrants and the great progress made on improving the economic conditions of minorities. However, to the extent that there is a perception of loss, much of it is undoubtedly associated with the weakening of our industrial competitiveness and with the sense that American technology, once believed to be the foundation of our success as a society, is not necessarily the harbinger of an ever-better future for Americans. Hence, regaining industrial competitiveness in manufacturing and addressing crucial social problems are challenges that American engineering must address if it is to help instill in our society a greater sense of optimism about the future.
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ENGINEERING AT A CROSSROADS Operating at the core of the technological process, engineering has succeeded in extending by orders of magnitude several of our biological capabilities. Many achievements of the modern world, from megacities to factories to artificial organs to the human presence in space, bear witness to the enormous technical prowess and social impact of engineering. Yet, engineering has exerted little purposeful influence in shaping the social systems that have been fostered and enriched by it. Today engineering has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise leadership in showing how technology can offer the means for creating a better world out of the ashes of collapsing or obsolete political and economic systems. The involvement of the engineer as a committed, scientifically knowledgeable problem solver and modifier of nature is our best hope for solving the problems of poverty and hunger, for eliminating the atavistic recourse to war and violence, and for addressing the environmental problem. It is also our best hope for addressing a myriad of other challenges, from natural disasters to drugs, and from water supply to a better space policy. There is no chance, however, for these hopes to become a reality unless the technical means created by engineering are integrated toward a common global purpose. If our society is to mount an intelligent all-out attack on some of its most enduring and elusive problems, stronger engineering and technological influence and a better sense of technological possibilities are needed in the planning and execution of social interventions worldwide, both public and private. For instance, our cities offer vast opportunities for engineering in restoring housing stocks and municipal services, and in forming new urban job-creating technologies and enterprises (Bugliarello, 1991; Mayor's Commission, 1989). However, those opportunities cannot be realized as long as engineers continue to occupy subordinate positions in municipal hierarchies and are not prepared to take the lead in drawing bold plans to address these issues—city by city, town by town. Engineers must fight major battles with bureaucracies, unions, and obsolete political jurisdictions (such as in the functionally inseparable tristate area of metropolitan New York) to make the possible real. Thus, the great challenge to engineering, worldwide, is whether it can demonstrate the promise of an enlightened technology by placing society's more immediate needs in a broader context. Our choice, as engineers, is clear: Are we willing to ensure that the new technologies are placed in a context that affords the maximum utility to society? Or are we satisfied with confining our task to the creation of technologies that make change possible? Will we broaden our social role and take the lead in developing more integrated sociotechnological approaches to society's problems? Or will we continue to
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE play a specialist's role without participating in the broader decisions about technology in the future of our society? If engineers are to play a more decisive and enlightened social role, the engineering community must be willing to act on a number of issues: Work more closely with leaders of business and government to develop a sense of engineering and technology as one of the essential components of their preparation. Engage more actively in the political dialogue and in the definition of sociotechnological problems. Increase attention to complex sociotechnological problems, such as poverty or education, and propose new institutions, such as “technological magistratures” with combined technical and legislative power, to address complex sociotechnological problems. Reshape engineering education to serve society as well as the engineering community. Foster the involvement of engineers in cultivating the philosophy of technology, the rational and moral underpinnings of the modification of nature and the creation of artifacts. At the outset of this paper, I raised several questions about engineering: its nature as a social activity, its role in responding to societal needs and shaping them, and its effectiveness in doing so, particularly in the United States. To conclude, engineering has performed extraordinarily well in responding to technical challenges but has shied away from the vigorous pursuit of complex sociotechnological issues. This is surely the Achilles heel of U.S. engineering. If unaddressed, this weakness will do a disservice to society by confining engineers to a mainly technical role in the engine compartments of society. Until engineering is prepared to assume greater leadership, it will remain a most honorable and skillful profession, but it will renounce its legitimate role as a splendid manifestation of humankind's will to control its destiny. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to gratefully acknowledge Professor Walter Rosenblith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hedy Sladovich of the National Academy of Engineering for their painstaking review and editing of this paper; Professor Steven Goldman of Lehigh University, for having kindly rushed to me the manuscript of his forthcoming entry on Engineering Education in the Encyclopedia of Higher Education; Professor Carl Mitcham of Pennsylvania State University for his bibliographical guidance; Dr. Joseph Jacobs of Jacobs Engineering for his views on the issue of engineering services tending to be treated as a commodity; Professor George Schillinger of Polytechnic University
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE for his penetrating comments; and the Library of Polytechnic University and Rose Emma of my staff for their generous help. NOTES Engineering is the core activity of technology performed by a social group—the engineers—within the technological enterprise; it involves the design, construction, and operation of artifacts (as defined below). The term engineering is used to denote the complex of activities in which engineers engage, and of knowledge and institutions that form, organize, guide, and support engineers. The methodology of engineering is a general problem-solving one that resorts heavily to the sciences and mathematics and can have uses beyond engineering. The modifications of nature by engineers take many forms in response to social needs. Technology is a social activity. It responds to the needs of a social group to modify nature for the group's purposes. Technology is carried out by a subset (which includes engineers) of that social group; its products and by-products (artifacts) affect that social group, and society in general. Artifacts—at least the wanted ones—are designed to enhance extracorporeally the capabilities of biological organisms, and in so doing enhance society. It is useful to formally define an artifact as any man-made, or, more generally, any biologically made modification of nature. Roads, buildings, mechanical machines, microchips, are obvious artifacts, as they modify nature and are not a product of a natural ecological process. A computer program and a musical score are also artifacts. Today's changing atmosphere can be viewed as an artifact to the extent that it is affected by emissions from factories, automobiles, agriculture, and other human artifacts and activities. Medical intervention in the course of a natural process we call disease is also an artifact, making it akin to engineering in its science-influenced endeavor to modify nature. Art, like engineering, enhances society through the creation of artifacts that at times come close to engineering, as in architecture and a number of contemporary artwork involving electronics, optics (e.g., motion pictures), new materials (e.g., acrylic painting), and new system concepts (e.g., feedback art) (Bugliarello, 1984c). See journals such as Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society (1980—), Technology in Society (1978—). For examples of joint attempts by engineers, philosophers, and historians to address issues of the philosophy and history of technology, see Bugliarello and Doner, eds. (1979); a recent, albeit controversial, study of the philosophy of technology by Agassi (1985); and a comprehensive year-by-year bibliographical review of the philosophy of technology by C. Mitcham in Durbin (1978—). Exceptions to this are the specialized fields of bioengineering and biochemical engineering and certain aspects of chemical engineering. REFERENCES Agassi, J. 1985 Technology—Philosophical and Social Aspects Dordrecht : Reidel Bernal, J. D. 1939 The Social Function of Science New York : Macmillan Bijker, W. T. Hughes and T. Pinch eds. 1989 The Social Construction of Technological Systems Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE Bugliarelio, G. V. Cardwell D. Salembier and W. White eds. 1972 Women in Engineering Chicago : University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Bugliarello, G. 1984a Hyperintelligence The Futurist (December) : 6–11 Bugliarello, G. 1984b Health care costs: Technology to the rescue? IEEE Spectrum : 97–100 Bugliarello, G. 1984c Tecnologia Enciclopedia del Novecento Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana VII : 382–414 Translated and edited as The Intelligent Layman's Guide to Technology. 1987 Brooklyn, N.Y. : Polytechnic Press Bugliarello, G. 1988 Toward hyperintelligence Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization 10(1) : 67–89 Bugliarello, G. 1989a Technology and the environment Pp. 383–402 in Changing the Global Environment Botkin Caswell Estes and Orio eds. San Diego, Calif. : Academic Press Bugliarello, G. 1991 Technology and the city Paper presented at Conference on Megacities United Nations University Tokyo Bugliarello, G. 1989b Physical and Information Sciences and Engineering Report of the Project 2061 Phase 1, Physical and Information Sciences and Engineering Panel Washington, D.C. : American Association for the Advancement of Science Bugliarello, G. and D. Doner eds. 1979 The History and philosophy of technology Urbana, Ill : University of Illinois Press Chalk, R. ed. 1988 Science, Technology, and Society—Emerging Relationships Washington, D.C. : American Association for the Advancement of Science Christensen, D. ed. 1987 Engineering Excellence—Cultural and Organizational Factors New York : IEEE Press Corcoran, W. 1982 Engineering Education: Aims and Goals for the Eighties Washington, D.C. : Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. de Camp, L. 1975 The Ancient Engineers New York : Ballantine Durbin, P. ed. 1978— Research in Philosophy and Technology Greenwich, Conn. : Jai Press Encyclopaedia Britannica 1910 Eleventh Edition Vol. IX New York : The Encyclopaedia Britannica Co. 1987 The Civilized Engineer New York : St. Martin's Press Hickman, L. 1990 John Dewey's Pragmatic Technology Bloomington, Ind. : Indiana University Press Jacobs, J. 1989 Engineering and construction: An industry in transition Chemical Engineering Progress June : 26–29 Keyworth, G., II and B. Abell 1990 Competitiveness and Telecommunication America's Economic Future: The House-to-House Digital Fiber Optic Network Indianapolis, Ind. : Hudson Institute Kinross, Lord 1977 The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire New York : Morrow Kranzberg, M. and W. H. Davenport 1972 Technology and Culture—An Anthology New York : Meridian Layton, E., Jr. 1986 The Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibility and the American Engineering Profession Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press Mayor's Commission for Science & Technology 1989 Science & Technology in New York City for the 21st Century (G. Bugliarello, committee chairman) Brooklyn, N.Y. : Polytechnic Press Mitcham, C. and P. Siekevitz eds. 1989 Ethical Issues Associated with Scientific and Technological Research for the Military Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 577 New York : New York Academy of Sciences
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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE Mumford, L. 1934 Technics and Civilization New York : Harcourt, Brace and World National Academy of Engineering 1970 Engineering for the Benefit of Mankind (H. F.Barr, committee chairman) Washington, D.C. : National Academy of Engineering National Academy of Engineering 1974 Issues and Public Policies in Educational Technology: To Realize the Promise Commission on Education, Advisory Committee on Issues in Educational Technology (G. Bugliarello, committee chairman) Lexington, Mass. :Lexington Books, D.C. Heath & Company. National Academy of Engineering 1980 Issues in Engineering: A Framework for Analysis (B. Boley, committee chairman) Washington, D.C. : National Academy of Engineering National Academy of Engineering 1988 The Technological Dimensions of International Competitiveness Report of the Committee on Technology Issues That Impact International Competitiveness Washington, D.C. : National Academy of Engineering National Academy of Engineering 1989 Engineering and the Advancement of HumanWelfare: Ten Outstanding Achievements 1964-1989 Washington, D.C. : National Academy of Engineering National Research Council 1985 Engineering in Society (George S. Ansell, panel chairman) Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press Newsweek 1990 Death in the Holy City July 16, p. 38 Unger, S. 1982 Controlling Technology: Ethics and the Responsible Engineer New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston Veblen, T. 1921 Engineers and the Price System New York : Viking Weinberg, A. M. 1966 Can technology replace social engineering? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 22(10) : 4–8 Winner, L. 1977 Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
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