Paul Penfield, Jr., The Electrical Engineer Twenty Years Hence, Colloquium, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; November 14, 1991.

The Electrical Engineer Twenty Years Hence

Paul Penfield, Jr.


Electrical Engineering as a discipline is about a hundred years old. What will it be like twenty years from now?

Our profession is characterized by two things:

  1. Our technology
  2. Our context.

What will these be like in twenty years? Some of the technology, such as the complexity of individual integrated circuits, can be forecast with a good deal of confidence. Other aspects of the technology, such as new materials or energy sources, are more difficult to predict.

As for the societal, political, economic, and industrial context in which electrical engineers will work, several important long-term trends can be identified. Revolutionary changes in society are taking place. Many of these changes are being caused by electronics, computation, and communication. Our profession will be a much more visible part of society, and we will have an obligation to help society cope with these changes.

However, we do not have to accept the nature of our profession as a given. We electrical engineers have the power to influence many of these aspects, and therefore the power to shape our profession. What do we want our profession to be like? What technology do we want to call our own? How about our societal context? There are a lot of specific questions that can be asked, and choices made.

The electrical engineers who will be at the prime of their careers twenty years hence are exactly those who are entering the university now. How they view their profession can be greatly influenced by what they learn now. In other words, we electrical engineering educators can make our profession whatever we want it to be, through the attitudes we instill in our students today.

In this context, we at MIT are now considering a substantial revision to our professional education in electrical engineering and computer science. This curriculum is being designed to serve the needs of those who will be leaders in our profession twenty years hence.

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Created: Nov 14, 1991  |  Modified: Dec 31, 1998
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