Who would have thought that car use would grow so fast that motorways would be plagued by delays as they neared capacity? That, in some places, high speed rail would emerge as a competitor to air travel?
Who would have envisaged the mobile phone, satellite TV; or that a new system of global electronic communication would evolve from a US military communciations network making information available worldwide for the cost of a local phone call?
Predicting what the world will look like in 20-odd years’ time is hard. Go a stage further and ask what will society demand of its engineers two decades into the next century and the task becomes even more difficult.
But that was the challenge handed down to the engineering professions by Alan Rudge, then chairman designate of the Engineering Council, in October 1995.
He picked four themes where engineers and engineering are at the heart of progress: transport, energy, environment and communications. Get together, he told the professional institutions, and come up with ideas about what the world will be like in 2020.
And so the 2020 Vision initiative was born. It is an exercise in prompting the profession to engage with society, anticipate change and consider what its future role should be. In equal parts it was also conceived as a profile raising exercise and as a way of fostering a sense of common purpose by the then newly reformed Engineering Council.
Rudge asked institution presidents to `orchestrate a national debate’ to address `a number of audiences, including opinion formers and politicians’. The Engineering Council would have an overall facilitating role.
Between now and the end of the year, the results will begin to emerge as a series of events and seminars are convened to discuss the issues: today, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers hosts a seminar on fossil fuel supply, one of four on the theme of energy.
This is the first of a series of reports in which The Engineer looks at the four broad strands of the 2020 Vision programme.
Four main areas were identified for the 2020 Vision programme. For each, one of the big four professional institutions was given the job of coordinating the response of a joint venture study group bringing together other relevant professional bodies.
Telecommunications: study group led by the Institution of Electrical Engineers, with four seminars this year. Liberty, Licence and Privacy: Do Technology and Regulation Conflict? held in January; Electronic Publishing – can it be made to work? in May.
Still to come: Distance destroyed: how will telcommunications shape wealth creation and work patterns? (12 November) and Morality in the information society on 11 December.
Environment: led by the Institution of Chemical Engineers which has taken the imaginative approach of holding an environmental conference on the Internet from 3-14 November. Visit the site on www.environment97.org
Transport: led by the Institution of Civil Engineers with a seminar on 19 November, concurrently with the Engineering Council Conference.