Where Are Today’s Engineering Heroes?

By failing to celebrate its finest contributors, the profession risks far more than mere obscurity

8 min read
Where Are Today’s Engineering Heroes?
Illustration: Tavis Coburn

Some 25 years ago, I set out to write a biography of one of the most notable electrical engineers in American history. A professor at MIT, he designed the most powerful analog computers of the 1930s, and he cofounded Raytheon. An advisor to two U.S. presidents, he initiated the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bombs, and he directed the research that led to the mass production of penicillin. In 1945, he conceived of the U.S. National Science Foundation, which continues to support groundbreaking research and has become the model for research funding in many countries. And he wrote a provocative magazine article that later was credited with accurately describing the personal computer and the Internet—decades before either came into being. I would argue that within the engineering pantheon, only Benjamin Franklin had as great an influence in as many spheres.

If by now you've identified my subject as Vannevar Bush, congratulations! If you haven't, don't feel bad. The most frequent question that I, his sole biographer, receive about him is whether he is related to the first and the second presidents Bush. (He is not.)

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

New AI Speeds Computer Graphics by Up to 5x

Neural rendering harnesses machine learning to paint pixels

5 min read
Four examples of Nvidia's Instant NeRF 2D-to-3D machine learning model placed side-by-side.

Nvidia Instant NeRF uses neural rendering to generate 3D visuals from 2D images.

NVIDIA

On 20 September, Nvidia’s Vice President of Applied Deep Learning, Bryan Cantanzaro, went to Twitter with a bold claim: In certain GPU-heavy games, like the classic first-person platformer Portal, seven out of eight pixels on the screen are generated by a new machine-learning algorithm. That’s enough, he said, to accelerate rendering by up to 5x.

This impressive feat is currently limited to a few dozen 3D games, but it’s a hint at the gains neural rendering will soon deliver. The technique will unlock new potential in everyday consumer electronics.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Golf Robot Learns To Putt Like A Pro

Watch out Tiger Woods, Golfi has a mean short game

4 min read
Golf Robot Learns To Putt Like A Pro

While being able to drive the ball 300 yards might get the fans excited, a solid putting game is often what separates a golf champion from the journeymen. A robot built by German researchers is quickly becoming a master of this short game using a clever combination of classical control engineering and machine learning.

In golf tournaments, players often scout out the greens the day beforehand to think through how they are going to play their shots, says Annika Junker, a doctoral student at Paderborn University in Germany. So she and her colleagues decided to see if giving a robot similar capabilities could help it to sink a putt from anywhere on the green, without assistance from a human.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This Gift Will Help Your Aspiring Engineer Learn Technology

Know someone that is hard to shop for? We have the perfect gift for you.

4 min read