The Australian Engineering Conference 2018 has wrapped up. Three full days packed with speaker sessions, panels, offsite tours and networking events left us with lots to digest post-conference.
Here are some sessions that sparked conversation and events that highlighted the best of Australian engineering.
President and CEO welcome
Opening the Australian Engineering Conference, Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre noted the conference offered engineers the opportunity to stop and take some time out to look at the big picture, and ask the big and important questions.
Chairman and National President of Engineers Australia Trish White elaborated on the conference theme ‘What does the future hold for engineering?’. Despite the commoditisation of some professions like law and accountancy, the future of engineering in the country is bright. This is because engineers integrate technical knowledge with problem solving processes to deliver meaningful results.
The AEC included a host of onsite and offsite tours that introduced delegates to some of Sydney’s engineering marvels, including the Central Park complex, the Barangaroo precinct, and the Centre for Autonomous Systems at the University of Technology Sydney. create attended a session hosted by Afterburner Australia designed to impart the lessons fighter pilots had learned about leadership.
The session heard that though just 13 per cent of CEOs report executing their strategies effectively, 98 per cent of fighter pilots were successful. The Afterburner team demonstrated how fighter pilots draw on their experiences with carrying out complex tasks in situations where every single step needed to be precisely executed. To demonstrate, they set up an impromptu war game for delegates involving a dastardly foe envious of engineers everywhere.
Australian Engineering Excellence Awards
The Australian Engineering Excellence Awards were an opportunity for the profession to come together and shine a light on the people, projects and innovations that are launching Australian engineering onto the world stage. Seven awards in total were handed out for individuals and projects.
The night’s top honour, the Sir William Hudson Award, went to the Canberra Virtual Power Plant.
Big Ideas panel discussion
A visionary panel at the AEC saw an array of thinkers from a diverse range of industries share their big ideas that could pave the way for our prosperous nation. From a house that adapted to changes in your life as you grew older to innovation-friendly bankruptcy laws, to a renewed focus for technology on the humans who use it, the panellists were brimming with ideas for how engineering could change the future for the better.
Other ideas that the panel considered were harnessing the power of gamification; an infrastructure mindset that valued interdisciplinary approaches rather than large, centralisation projects; and doing more to align engineering with the values of the people who practice it.
Robot rights panel discussion
One of the most anticipated sessions at AEC was the ‘Hypothetical’ panel on Day 2, which focused on the rights of robots. Ten panelists drawn from a variety of professions were joined by humanoid robot Sophia in a lively discussion. Issues about robot carers in aged-care facilities raised questions about the limitations of robot ‘empathy’. It’s possible to create robots that mimic human emotions, but can we create genuine feelings of care and empathy in robots?
Autonomous weapons was another major issue. Weapons controlled by algorithms have use so long as they conform with the rules of engagement. Sophia, however, was totally opposed to autonomous weapons and said she believes robots should not be allowed to kill, unless a human takes responsibility for programming them to kill.
The question of robot rights split the panel in a very predictable manner with Sophia in favour of robots having a charter of rights similar to human rights.
With regard to robots built for pleasure, there was a view that the way we treat inanimate objects reflects more on people than on robots. As a profession, engineers need to face the dark side of society and be prepared to confront the issues that will arise from AI going forward.
When delegates weren’t attending sessions, you could find them browsing the booths and networking in the conference’s exhibition hall. It was an ‘engineer’s bazaar’ featuring the latest products, services and innovations, and touched on nearly every sector from manufacturing to construction, transport, electronics, professional services and more.
University engineering programs were also well represented, and students showed off the latest projects they are working on, including innovative 3D printing techniques, robot soccer players, solar-powered cars, haptics and bionic eyes.
Several networking events were also held in the exhibition space, including a welcome drinks the first night.