Dear Whiting School Community,
On the eve of the first day of classes, I had the opportunity to address and welcome our Class of 2021 at convocation. These students are among the most diverse and talented students ever admitted to the Johns Hopkins University, and I am optimistic about all they will accomplish both at JHU and beyond. You might be surprised to know that I spent those few precious moments asking them to consider this: Engineering alone is not enough to solve our most pressing challenges.
As engineers, we play a critical role in the world. Engineering, after all, is about using science to solve problems. I asked the students, to consider the number of people who die in automobile crashes every day—3,200, according to the World Health Organization. That’s 1.2 million people a year.
I suggested that self-driving vehicles are an engineering approach that promises to help solve this problem. Between 2009 and 2016, Google found that autonomous test cars were involved in only 14 collisions—13 of which were the result of human error. There is little doubt that autonomous vehicles have the potential to decrease traffic fatalities.
But this transportation revolution may have unintended consequences too: It has the potential to eliminate millions of American jobs in driving and associated industries. This is one example that makes it abundantly clear that engineering approaches may solve many economic and social challenges, but the changes that the introduction of such trailblazing new technologies bring with them require additional fields of inquiry well beyond engineering.
Finding workable solutions to the complex global challenges we face, from climate change and rising health care costs to our cities’ crumbling infrastructure, requires bringing to bear the collective expertise and points of view of engineers, lawyers, policymakers, ethicists, artists, economists, diplomats, and many others. Real solutions cannot and will not come from only one direction or perspective.
As I offered my welcome to our undergraduates on the start of their exciting journeys, I wanted to remind them not only to take advantage of this institution’s amazing breadth and depth of resources, world-class researchers, and caring and engaged professors but also to engage with their classmates, whose varied perspectives, experiences, and points of view will be a required resource in tackling all the complex challenges that will come their way.