I have always advocated for investment in engineering – to both improve society and stimulate economies. It’s true that as engineer myself I have a vested interest. But following the financial fallout this is no longer just a point of view. It’s a necessity.
President Obama believes invention and technology are key to moving forward, out of the current crisis and beyond. What is stopping us? Perception is a problem. There needs to be an ideological shift in the way we view engineering.
We take for granted technological advances that were once recognized as a source of pride – they enriched our lives and gave us hope for the future. We’ve just marked the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Hundreds of engineers and scientists were involved with NASA’s Apollo program. Because of their work, and a commitment from government leaders, a true feat of engineering was achieved. It was an enormous challenge – which made accomplishing it all the more inspiring.
The space race is behind us, but the same inventive spirit is needed to overcome today’s challenges.
But we don’t celebrate more contemporary achievements like nanotechnology or fiber optics.
You could argue such technology is less tangible – but what could be more spectacular than potentially building an elevator made out of nanotubes from earth to into space?
Remember, at one time, putting a man on the moon seemed implausible.
Today, the focus is on sustainability and making products and technology that will spur on economic recovery. Three billion dollars have been invested in theNational Science Foundationalready this year. And the U.S. plans to put more money into science research than ever before.
This is encouraging. We need to take a long term view of how engineering fits into our lives – from education and training, to job creation. The US, like the UK, needs more science and math teachers. But we also need to renew interest in these vital and pioneering fields.
In the West, we encourage young people to go into finance or marketing because we see them as modern, successful professions. But in China and India, careers in engineering and science are revered because they are recognized as a source of true wealth and expertise. And hence the wealth of these counties is growing rapidly. We can spend billions of dollars to reignite engineering programs in the West, but without skilled workers to fill the jobs, we won’t see the benefits.
Our reliance on the financial industry has had disastrous consequences.
There are fiscal and social implications when engineering and invention are ignored. How will we answer questions about our planet’s sustainability? Not to mention the challenges we face from population growth and taking care of the sick. It’s time to get back to basics, where good technology solves problems – creating jobs and boosting consumer confidence in the process.
So, now is the time to commit to science and engineering. And the generations that will define our future. Government leaders have started to offer support. Now it’s time for more companies to invest in invention and recognize the value of research and development. Traditional thinking may be safe. It may be comfortable. But it won’t give you the incredible: the next space rocket, jet plane or microchip.
- On CNBC.com now: Evolution of Wireless Communication
Let’s focus on the genuine creative industry of engineering things. We can’t afford not to.
Sir James Dyson, founder and chairman of Dyson. Dyson vacuum cleaners are now sold in over forty countries and Dyson is market leader in the US, UK, Australia, Japan and Western Europe.