Article - Issue 20, August/September 2004

A final word from the Editor-in-Chief

Dr John Forrest CBE FREng

Download the article (129 KB)

A final word from the Editor-in-Chief

Ingenia is five years old and already feeling quite grown-up. It has been a most enjoyable and stimulating experience for me over this period acting as Editor-in-Chief launching and developing this important magazine for the Academy. As I move on to other activities, I am delighted that Scott Steedman will be taking over the reins and overseeing the next phase of growth and development. My special thanks go to Kathryn Cairney and the members of the Editorial Board who have willingly dedicated long hours to identify, critique and edit articles prior to publication.

It is interesting to reflect on how much has happened in matters related to engineering in these five years. We have seen the period of madness, now known as the Internet ‘boom and bust’ in which all reason seemed to vanish in the optimism for short-term commercial return from virtually any new technology. We have seen massive investments in telecommunications infrastructure, giving rise to over-supply and collapse of tariffs – a business that is only now beginning to recover. We have seen the mobile phone move from a business essential to being the essential of all cohorts of society, including primary school children, and text messaging becoming a multi-billion pound business. Yet, we were far too optimistic on the timescales for third-generation mobile, only just beginning to roll-out. Wireless is the new excitement – ‘hot spots’ to provide broadband connection to laptop computers and hand-held devices and the implementation of dedicated wireless connectivity in airports, office blocks, shopping centres, business parks and stadia.

The developments in biotechnology and the biosciences have arguably been the most impressive of any domain over the last five years. This ranges from the work on the human genome to more straightforward, but none the less still impressive, research on the modification of amino acids and similar molecules to aid drug development and diagnostic processes. In this we are at the fascinating time that electronics was in the early days of the transistor.

On a less savoury note, we have seen the rapid increase of the terrorist threat, bringing major new challenges for engineering to make our society more secure without too much loss of liberty. This is driving new developments in information technology, surveillance and sensors. ‘Homeland security’, to use the US term, is a major new driver for business and new technology. Attacks on buildings have led to substantial new thinking on appropriate design so that the fabric will have maximum ability to withstand terrorist attack. Similar thinking is going into the communications and information technology infrastructure for buildings to give maximum resilience and ability to continue business.

As to the next five years – what will we see? ‘Ubiquitous computing’ – the ability to access anywhere a vast amount of information easily and process it to suit our needs is certainly one. Moreover, a very large number of inanimate objects will have an Internet address, processing capability and communications capability. Increasingly they will communicate with each other rather than with humans. The health service will move into the information age, but not fast enough. Traffic congestion and therefore long-distance commuting or socialising will become unacceptable. The government response will be to introduce road tolls on a large scale and this is likely to cause us to rethink many of our current ways of business and social interaction.

Let’s just hope that we do not lose contact with reality and become the society in E.M. Forster’s story ‘The Machine Stops’ – a society that became dependent on technology and forgot to continually question or understand how it all worked.

Dr John Forrest CBE FREng

[Top of the page]