Written By Oliver Couch, pictured above at the ‘Great Engineering Debate’.

I recently had the opportunity to represent Engenium as a member of the Young Engineers Newcastle (YEN) team in the Great Engineering Debate. The topic debated was ‘Technology and Social Media Have Hindered, Not Helped the Engineering World’, with myself and the rest of the young engineers arguing for the statement.

Congratulations are due to the senior engineers who managed to beat us by popular vote, successfully arguing that on balance technology has not hindered us. The debate covered diverse aspects of the impacts of technology and social media on the engineering world; from plagiarism in education to globalisation, societal reliance on technology to mental health issues and worker productivity.

What really stuck out for me on the night was a common theme underlying all the arguments: ‘Understanding Human Nature’. Being able to understand how our designs and decisions as engineers affect the world of those around us requires knowledge well outside the typical engineering syllabus.

It is of the utmost importance we educate ourselves to a conceptual level in microeconomics, game theory, psychology (particularly physiological psychology, evolutionary psychology, social psychology, operant conditioning, cognitive bias, and heuristics), and informal logic (especially logical fallacies). This knowledge is a fundamental pre-requisite for fulfilment of an engineer’s ethical obligations.

Without this broader understanding, we may be able to answer whether we could, but never whether we should. As our technological development streaks ahead and far outpaces human evolution, this distinction is becoming more important than ever.