Engineering a Better World – the Next 100 Years

The Annual Meeting of CAETS, Stockholm, 2019. Personal reflections by Professor Tuula Teeri, President of IVA and CAETS.

The theme of the Annual Meeting and the associated Conference - the next 100 years - was chosen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of IVA, which was founded in 1919 as the first Academy of Engineering in the world. The conference brought together 400 participants from all over the world, including 26 CAETS academies of engineering and three from Nigeria, New Zeeland and Serbia that were elected as new members of CAETS.

– When considering the global challenges that we are facing today, it feels to me that they are graver than ever before. Then again, historical records from 100, 500 or 2000 years ago suggest that people have always felt that their current problems are the worst ever. And yet, humankind has always been able to put things right and the world has not gone under, said the President of IVA, Professor Tuula Teeri.

New, powerful technology is considered the key in solving many of our current issues but – at the same time – technology is perceived a threat by many people in the turbulent labor markets. Many fear for their jobs and for losing control over their lives by for example automatization, robotics and artificial intelligence.

– We will have to succeed in convincing people that new technology can help us. Otherwise they will be very vulnerable to demagogues declaring new technology “wrong and dangerous”! said the Swedish Minister for Enterprise, Mr. Ibrahim Baylan.

One clear message from the speakers of the conference was that we will need to put people in the center, engaging them in discussions and decisions concerning the effects and implementation of technology.

– Today, the focus of our national development is not technology-driven but human-centered and based on the core values of openness, sustainability and inclusion, said Yuko Harayama, former Executive Member of the Council for Science and Technology Policy in Japan.

– Inequalities between regions, countries and citizens is a huge obstacle for reaching our climate goals. The fundamental issue will be to find a balance between the environmental and the social agendas, said Edgar Pieterse from South Africa.

The world is becoming more complex, globalized and very difficult to grasp in its entirety. Professor Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT explained that our current economic models predicting future trends tend to fail to account for e.g. intangible assets important in the digital world. There are also long implementation and restructuring lags with the introduction of new technology before people experience long-lasting positive impacts are experiences in their lives.

– Inclusive innovation, collaboration and prosperity shared by all will be needed to overcome the obstacles of increasing technology resistance, he said.

Due to the complexity and the scale of our challenges, what is needed in the world is perhaps first and foremost cooperation and sharing between science and policy – between scientists from different fields, and between scientists, political decision-makers and the general public.

– To solve our problems, we must learn to manage complicated collaborations, stated the CTO of Total, Marie-Noëlle Semeria.

Kaveh Madani, an environmental scientist, educator and activist concluded that we need to reach a common understanding of the problems we have and the ways in which they can be solved. The longer we argue, the more likely it will be that we reach unforeseen tipping points, which can’t be reversed.

– We need to be frustrated, Madani empathized. The high speed of our development gives us genuine hope but only as long as our institutions are capable of changing.

– Tomorrows’ leaders need to have a multidisciplinary approach, a clarity of vision and a big focus on equality, said the international higher education consultant Dr. Ruth Graham.

For texts on the three days of the CAETS conference - follow the links below:

Day 1 - Grand opening of the CAETS Conference

Day 2 - Creative chaos with invited top lecturers

Day 3 - Forward-looking panel on final day of conference