Message from the Past Presidents (1st President, 1999-05)

Message from the President

Message from the Past Presidents (1st President, 1999-05)

Hiroyuki Yoshikawa

Founder Advisor, Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education

Few would argue that the twentieth century was a century of science and technology.

Regrettably, there is no denying that during the first half of that century, which some call “the war period, ” science and technology contributed to increasing the tragedy of war. After World War II, however, despite considerable tension during the Cold War, major conflicts were largely averted as people rejected war. The rest of the century saw rapid progress in both the quality and quantity of science and technology. The positive impact of these advances was far-reaching, enabling humanity to achieve greater well-being and safer societies.

As was pointed out at the World Conference on Science held in Budapest in 1999, which was cosponsored by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and UNESCO, although science and technology brought immeasurable benefits, they also increased the gap between rich and poor throughout the world, and the imprudent application of science and technology sparked new dangers. We must concede that the rapid progress of science and technology has brought new threats, the like of which humanity has never before encountered.

For this reason, those who are involved in science and technology must be very careful in their future conduct. The responsibility of engineers is especially great because the increased gap between rich and poor and the new threats to society are deeply related to the process of applying science and technology. It is safe to say that in the present age, it is engineers who are primarily responsible for applying scientific knowledge to the real world.

How should engineers conduct their jobs with care? Should they be hesitant in applying new knowledge, or apply only knowledge that has been proven safe?

Such ideas basically will not work. If we proceeded in this way, it would be almost impossible to bridge the gap between rich and poor, which is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today, or to solve the environmental issues that face humanity on a scale never before experienced. Today, the only course that engineers can take is to seek new knowledge through basic research and to boldly apply that knowledge.

It is quite difficult to be both prudent and assertive at the same time. If, however, this is what modern engineers must do, we have no alternative other than to find ways to achieve it.

As has been said on many occasions, engineers are required to be ethical beings. As used here, the term ethical pertains to those who create and acquire new knowledge as confident engineers; energetically apply what they have learned to the real world while, at the same time, having deep insight into and understanding of the results of its use; and do all in their power to avert the potential threats that such applications might pose. Such engineers are unlikely to be nurtured under the conventional concepts of engineering education, which are simply intended to increase the level of knowledge in a particular field. The training of ethical engineers requires a system designed to educate individuals to fully understand the ethical values associated with technology and to evaluate the position of their field within technology as a whole. In this respect, we have high hopes for the recently established Japan Accreditation Board for Engineering Education (JABEE).

The need for engineers to be both prudent and assertive will become ever more pressing as the role of technology in society continues to grow. It is not the only requirement, however. Many engineers work in corporations that are subject to the industrial policies of their national governments. A government’s industrial policies, in turn, are often affected by international agreements. In such a complex world, there are many ways of ensuring that science and technology are used optimally to benefit humanity.

There is a deep mutual relationship between the task of ensuring that science and technology benefit humanity and the task of providing an environment for engineers to play an active role, since such an environment is sure to exist when science and technology are accepted by humanity.

In the process of creating such an environment, the involvement of scientists and engineers in policymaking has recently begun to attract attention. A worldwide science academy, the Inter Academy Panel – in which Japan is represented by the Science Council of Japan – has established a new organization called the Inter Academy Council. The Council is structured so that academies throughout the world can cooperate in advising the United Nations and the World Bank on policymaking matters, just as science academies in each country advise their governments about formulating science and technology policies.

There is now broad recognition that organizations, whether national or international, need fair and accurate advice from scientists and engineers regarding all policymaking matters.

The Inter Academy Council is an advisory organization on science and technology, and it deals particularly with matters associated with the most advanced scientific fields. Yet it is also becoming clear that professional advice is increasingly necessary for solving worldwide problems related to engineering. To this end, it will be necessary for engineering science societies in individual countries to collaborate internationally.

Although the current objective is for each country and international organization to develop appropriate policies, the significance of involvement of scientists and engineers in policymaking is that is represents a chance to provide engineers working within multiple policy frameworks with a situation in which they can act both prudently and assertively.

It is not only international organizations that need advice on technology policies. Advice to domestic organizations is in many ways more important, and most countries have already established advisory bodies. My concern is that the advice to Japanese government is still based on the requests of industry. This situation is not unrelated to the fact that accreditation for engineering education got underway later than in many countries. Both accreditation and advice require logical plans and strategies. The founding of JABEE will help to realize these logical plans and strategies in as timely a manner as possible. I hope that we can all apply the experience we acquire of developing strategies to the solution of other problems.

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