I recently met Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist best known for his discovery that black holes emit radiation. Many consider him to be the Einstein of our day. The opportunity came at an event co-sponsored by Mentor Graphics, Wilsonville, Ore., and Agilent Technologies, Palo Alto, Calif., where he gave a lecture titled "The Universe in a Nutshell."
What made this event and the accomplishments of his life all the more remarkable is his inability to walk, talk, write, or communicate in any way that many of us would consider normal. Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, in 1963. At the time, his doctors gave him just three years to live. While he proved the doctors wrong, the disease's effects have left him physically just a shell of his former self. Mentally, however, he's as strong as ever.
Luckily, technology's great strides over the past 30 years have given voice to his thoughts. With the aid of a computer system mounted to his wheelchair—a communications program and synthesizer—he simply selects the word he wishes to say with a click of his finger. The computer then says the word aloud.
What does all this have to do with you? Well, Hawking and so many other great minds of our time are responsible for work that has culminated in significant leaps forward in a variety of technologies. In fact, many of these developments form the basis for much of the engineering work done today. But there is another reason why I think you should care about him. He stands as an example to us all of the determination and unstoppable nature of the human spirit. Also, he represents the fact that the only limitations in life are those that we set for ourselves.
This isn't such a radical concept. After all, where would we be if William Hewlett and David Packard hadn't believed in the possibility of their dreams, cramped in a small garage, so many years ago? And it's a safe bet that Bill Gates began his dynasty by believing he could turn his visions into reality. The ability of these men to see the possibilities in a world of limitations is what propelled them forward.
This is especially critical now, as the world we live in is dramatically changing. Many of these changes you can chalk up to the consumerization of the industry, the communications revolution, and even the growing popularity of the Internet. Whatever the reason, it's quite clear that the future of consumer products, communication, the Internet, and in turn, our world, will be determined by engineers and scientists with the courage to look beyond the limitations of today's world to understand the boundless possibilities of tomorrow.
One of these people may be you. Instead of working in your garage, you may be huddled around a computer in your bedroom or den. Maybe you're designing embedded systems or offering a unique design service. Whatever your dream, the power of the Internet and the availability of technology at your fingertips means that you are more likely to succeed today than ever before.
I left Hawking's lecture encouraged by his spirit of discovery and more than just a little bit intrigued to see what new possibilities you clever engineers may one day turn into reality. So tell me, what are your dreams for tomorrow, and how will you shape the world we live in? Send me your thoughts. And if you're in need of a little inspiration, contact Hawking at www.hawking.org.uk or [email protected]