Chris Vreeman: Letter to the Editor

Dear reader of my article "A CAE-oriented look back at the year 2022" who got as far as to click on the link leading here: Please feel free to judge for yourself if Chris Vreeman's text below has any relevance to my approach to looking into the crystal ball. I just felt it had when I recently read it in the December 2017 issue of the Mechanical Engineering magazine.

No engineer should just focus on her or his present task. We all know something of value to the future and we should never expect people we don't know to possess exactly that knowledge - even less to act upon it.

I have chosen to quote the Mr. Vreeman's text in full (with kind permission). It contains references to persons and issues you probably never heard of. Don't let that bother you...

Thank you for continuing to publish past contributions to Mechanical Engineering in the Vault. Your look back 40 years in the October 2017 issue ["New Career Paths in Engineering: Applications of Solar Energy" by Lloyd O. Herwig] provided a great reminder of how often the economic viability of up-and-coming technologies are only 10 to 20 years away, to which an experienced engineer might add with a smile, "And they always will be."

Acknowledging that forecasts of economic viability are often wrong is not a criticism of such projections per se. To his great credit, Herwig stated that the projections he cited in 1977 were themselves based on forecasts of "technology development and competing alternative fossil and nuclear-fueled plants." Absent a crystal ball, how would he or anyone else at the time have imagined the events that would lead to a generations worth of low cost energy at the very height of a widely perceived energy crisis?

What is so frequently misunderstood about projections is that their benefit lies less in their accuracy a decade or two later, but rather in the work of developing and maintaining the projections in the first place.

Forecasting requires gathering data, challenging assumptions, and estimating risks, which can then be used to develop contingency plans, enabling us to respond quickly in the face of uncertainty. At the same time, we do ourselves a disservice when we either unquestioningly believe our projections, investing too much in their accuracy over the long haul, or dismiss them outright because "they are always wrong."

Studying what our predecessors assumed, what they believed, and the choices they made, is a great way to honor their contributions. It is also a great way to keep us grounded in the face of a predictably uncertain future.

Chris Vreeman, Greenville, S.C.

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