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Engineering in 40 Years

Engineering in 40 Years

I expect it’s safe to mention it now, but I put myself in for the NCE Graduate Engineer of the Year awards. I would be pretty surprised if I won, having taken in the leagues of previous winners who seemingly draw structures from the earth using their bare hands, while simultaneously bringing peace and competent infrastructure to the third world.

Determined not to let the effort of application go to waste, however, here is my response to the debate topic for this year. I suspect my inability to resist the urge to play with the stanza of ‘debate,’ especially given the speculative nature of the question, might not go down so well- but I figure it’s best to have fun with these things.

Civil Engineering in 40 Years Time

In 2052 I sit at my desk drinking a coffee. Firing up my Smart-Sheet (an A3 sheet of computing that puts the best PCs of 2012 to shame; Moore’s Law may have recessed, but technological development remains strong) I read my e-mails. Despite many attempts, video conferencing and messaging never managed to take off; stuck in the Uncanny Valley of sight without contact, people kept to meetings and never managed to give-up coming to the office.

On my way home I think back to the question I was asked 40 years ago, laughing to myself about how wrong I was about the future.

I reply to the client, updating him on our programme. Comprehending, the AI begins to automagically update the Gant chart on my wall. Since Google taught computers to read, automatic understanding has become the norm, and I become frustrated with the time it takes to complete- ranting about how 40 years ago I would have just drawn a line and had done with it.

Swiping through to the EDP (Engineering Delivery Platform; the successor to BIM) I begin to reposition the piles on the latest set of London Marine defences, watching as they resize to suit the design. Climate change is now ebbing, following eventual international agreements, but the effects are still felt. I glance at the new design and make a motion to share it with the contractor. No doubt she is sitting inside looking out at the rain; watching the surveying station track about, plunging the new setting-out pegs into the ground.

Our current engineering apprentice (a common sight now university costs have exceeded any engineering salary), has been working on the HS4 tender documentation. I’ve been telling him tales of how HS3 was blocked time and time again as the route and its worth was debated, before they finally agreed to tunnel the complete length.

The apprentice asks me how our tender demonstrates ‘Continuous Creation’. Building on the likes of carbon footprints, sustainability, and environmentalism before it; Continuous Creation sets out how each ambition should create more than it takes. From feeding energy to the national grid, to inspiring and enabling the local community- sometimes I cynically long for the days when putting in badger tunnels was enough.

I joke that if he doesn’t get me another coffee I’ll send him off for a secondment year to the off-shore nuclear power sites. Once complete these will represent nearly 50% of the UK’s energy. As petrol costs rose and electric cars became the norm public opinion began to drift once again to the promise of cheap and, relatively, clean power. The prospect of using the sea as an emergency coolant, and the ample opportunity to burn any waste through atmospheric dumping from satellite launches, finally gave the project life.

During the flurry into space 15 years ago I had been taken by the ships now sent by Google into space, collecting natural resources. I have now joined a team investigating how concrete could be developed from moon strata, and the effects of its placement in low gravity. At 65, however, I doubt I will see the first major Civil Engineering project in space.

Cheaper manufacturing methods, as well as reduced pressure on oil (following the adoption of the electric car,) has lead to a growth in reinforced plastics as a building material. It’s strange to think that the structural walls in the office are more thick for insulation than support. Like reinforced concrete, however, the promise of a ‘maintenance free material‘ is beginning to come undone, and we’ve already won a few repairs contracts.

On my way home I think back to the question I was asked 40 years ago, laughing to myself about how wrong I was about the future.

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  1. Ed Dablin

    Nice finish.

  2. Ibrahim

    This post was interesting- I spent couple hours thinking and wondering how engineering will be after 40 years, and how is it going to change the world!?


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