Unleashing the power of invisible gods

Unleashing the power of invisible gods

We are living in an era of phenomenal technological prowess. There is little that is technologically impossible, that can’t be engineered. Engineering is also one of the few professions that truly creates new value and possibilities. Yet the products of engineering are so pervasive they are almost invisible, and the power of engineering is largely taken for granted. Engineers are like ‘invisible gods’. This must change.

I also believe we’re living in a ‘golden age of engineering‘. Most of the big societal problems we care about demand clever engineering to resolve. Whether it’s tackling climate change, creating a circular economy or achieving cyber security, the quality of engineering counts.

Responding to unprecedented events

But we are not living in normal times. Trust in governments and big business remains persistently low. Our news feeds are clogged with stories of ‘unprecedented’ events that fuel anxiety and fracture communities. There is a sense that business-as-usual won’t deliver a better future. We need uncommon responses.

Globally insured losses 2021
Insured catastrophe losses since 1970 in USD billion. The number of recorded natural disasters has risen sharply since 1900, dominated by weather-related events. Costs are likely to grow more than global GDP given increases in wealth, urbanisation, and climate change.

So, on this World Engineering Day, we should ask ourselves, “What really matters in our lives and communities? Are our current priorities and behaviours creating more harm than good?” Is it not possible to ‘build back wiser’, restoring economies while also restoring the fabric of our communities and environment?

Building back wiser

The answer to this question is an enthusiastic ‘yes!’. It involves deep and rapid decarbonisation of our economy. It involves re-engineering our systems of infrastructure at pace and scale. It requires reshaping the value chains for procuring and delivering engineering services. And it involves expanding and engaging our full sovereign engineering capability.

Large solar farm in Australia
Australia requires a tenfold increase in renewable energy. Utility-scale renewables must replace fossil fuels, but this presents a challenge in terms of pace and scale of integration. New business models for procurement, delivery and regulation are required.

Supporting learning leaders

To succeed, we must also identify, promote and support visionary, authentic, learning leaders. They are people who understand the criticality of their role in transforming the systems that shape society. These leaders will be relatively rare, invaluable and often misunderstood because they will be wise, humble, determined and deft. They will recognise that the real challenge is not making progress technologically possible but making it humanly possible.

The responsible use of trust

The scale of change required is both invigorating and daunting. It will be easy to avoid the challenge and cling to a hope that others will ‘save the day’. So, leaders of change must be engaging, compelling and trusted. Alongside doctors and nurses, engineers are the most trusted professionals. This trust, coupled with the power of engineering, imposes a deep responsibility – to wield it wisely, ethically, and generatively in the nation’s interest.

… we must collaborate to create solutions that people love and want to pay for… because of the way they make people feel.

As engineers, we must collaborate to create solutions that people love and want to pay for… because of the way they make people feel. Not only can we create solutions that are practical, useful and valuable, we can make them enriching, restorative and healing. We can create solutions that restore hope in the face of despair and trust in our capacity to resolve the problems that matter most.

Standing up

At some point in our lives, we must determine what we stand for, and then take a stand. On this World Engineering Day, I encourage you to take a stand, to help to bring engineering out of the shadows. No longer can we be the silent profession. Our collective voices and power must contribute to a more sustainable, secure, and positive society.