I Have Seen the Future! Ethics, Progress, and the Grand Challenges for Engineering

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Joseph R. Herkert David A. Banks


This article is a critique of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering’s report, Grand Challenges for Engineering, based upon the “technocratic view” of progress as defined by historian Leo Marx and as exemplified by the public works of Robert Moses, including the 1964 World’s Fair, as well as technological determinist narratives on the digital age drawn from contemporary culture. While the so-called Grand Challenges purport to have social aims, a close reading of the document’s overview essay suggests that the technocratic view of progress—which views technology primarily as an end in itself rather than as a means to social progress and fails to explicitly account for engineers’ social and ethical responsibilities—still dominates the thinking of at least some leaders of the engineering profession. This technocratic thinking presents a critical barrier to achieving social justice both within engineering and in the larger world.

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HERKERT, Joseph R.; BANKS, David A.. I Have Seen the Future! Ethics, Progress, and the Grand Challenges for Engineering. International Journal of Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 2, p. 109–122, nov. 2012. ISSN 1927-9434. Available at: <https://ojs.library.queensu.ca/index.php/IJESJP/article/view/4306>. Date accessed: 25 july 2017. doi: https://doi.org/10.24908/ijesjp.v1i2.4306.
Grand Challenges; National Academy of Engineering; Robert Moses; progress myth; technocratic view of progress; technology as culture