If I had to pick the greatest engineering achievement of all time, I'd probably put the harnessing of electric power at the top of my list. However, one could certainly make a case for other great discoveries and inventions—from the printing press to the potato chip—that have profoundly affected our lives, for better or worse. But the recent blackout that stilled a large corridor of the eastern and midwestern U.S. was a forceful reminder of the tremendous dependence we have on fundamental technologies like electric power and the important role they play in our lives.
At the dawn of the 20th century, thousands of pioneering engineers were at the forefront of one of the greatest periods of social change, developing innovative electric fuel sources that powered up our cities, farms, and homes and changed the course of history. Today, the benefits derived from electricity, from streetlights to supercomputers, are generally taken for granted and go largely unnoticed.
Some say that present-day technology innovation will go the way of electricity, providing basic services without the productivity gains or competitive advantages that captured our imagination during previous high-tech waves. Others feel that as technology becomes more pervasive, its impact on companies and individuals will lessen. But electronics engineering is far from being a profession that needs to reflect on its past achievements for a sense of fulfillment. In fact, its greatest accomplishments are still to come.
You don't have to look far beyond the design lab (or the pages of Electronic Design) to see how engineers continue to harvest new and complex technologies to build amazing products that make life sweeter and simpler for all of us. New sensor technologies, networking software, and next-generation GPS systems are helping to reinvent automotive comfort and safety. Flat-panel displays and on-board networking capability are taking the next crop of desktop and laptop computers to a whole new level. The adoption of microprocessor-based control and other circuit advances at consumer electronics companies is unleashing a powerful generation of entertainment products designed to improve our quality of play. A digital revolution is sweeping the home entertainment industry, making theater-quality images and sound more accessible to everyone. And just as I'm learning to fully appreciate ubiquitous technologies powered by electricity, emerging 3G services are ushering in an era of mobile videoconferencing, video-on-demand, m-commerce, and enhanced video-camera capabilities.
According to the Electronic Design Reader Profile Survey, the anchor of this special issue, engineers are generally satisfied with their choice of profession (over 82% of you say you'd recommend it as a career to a young person) and most feel adequately compensated. But there's a lot more to life than engineering and money. So, in between adding wings to your new ideas, don't forget to take time to stop and appreciate the innovative ways that you and your peers raise the quality of life. You really do make a difference, and you will for years to come.