Ingenuity and invention marked the previous hundred years as detailed in A Century of Innovation. According to the book, benefits of these technologies were universal, diverse across science, and produced in enough quantity to make them universally available. These precursors to the 21st century began with electrification, the telephone, the automobile, and airplane, electronics, radio and television, water supply and distribution, agricultural mechanization, air conditioning and refrigeration, interstate highways, household appliances, computers and the internet, health technologies, imaging, laser and fiber optics, nuclear technologies, petrochemical technology and high-performance materials. So ubiquitous and commonplace that we now take them for granted, all have been the foundation for transforming our lives in the past century.
It’s difficult to select the most important engineering challenges of the 21st century. New technologies in the areas of the environment include energy conservation and resource protection, weather prediction and control, food, water production and distribution, traffic and population logistics, waste management, sustainable development and an integrated electronic environment. Prolonging life, genetics and cloning are the new frontiers of medicine. AI, interfaces, and social robotics along with robots like Watson, Robonaut 2 the space butler and space exploration are pushing the envelope of knowledge in these fields. Education and learning, knowledge sharing, preservation of history and the species are expanding, as well. Issues of globalization and global communication, security and counter-terrorism are requiring all the ingenuity we can bring to the table.
It’s a vast palette and it appears that where we venture next is limitless.