Social sciences or the skills of science have always been associated with the pre-requisite knowledge of engineering. It has been maintained for decades that engineers apply the knowledge of science in their work and they also navigate a lot of social science as well as humanities knowledge in order to design their solutions.
If we look at the dictionary definition of engineering, it says, “the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and sources of energy in nature are made useful to people.” This definition clearly emphasizes the benefits of social sciences in engineering.
There is not just one but several ways in which social sciences help engineering. In fact, both the sciences go hand in hand and can progress immensely if aligned together.
In today’s times, there is are a lot of discussions about converging various subjects together and having an interdisciplinary approach to understand things. This helps in having various vantage points and perspectives on a particular topic.
Gone are the days when one subject was considered supreme and had the edge over the others. Given the rapid changes in development in the present scenario, it is impossible for engineering technology to work independently without the assistance of social sciences.
Hence, in order to succeed in the current context, an intermingling of these multi-disciplinary subjects is the right way to go about it.
Here are some instances that clearly show how the future of engineering technology depends greatly on the support of social sciences!
1. Strengthening the future of engineering technology
There are many ways through which social sciences strengthen the future of engineering technology. However, the most important is that social scientists solve some of the biggest problems that humanity faces. This paves the way for engineering technologies to flourish in society.
Some of these roles include solving the issues of the energy crisis, cybersecurity, violent crimes, the spread of infectious diseases and much more. One of the biggest examples, in this case, is the Ebola crisis that gripped West Africa recently.
While it was important to invest in drugs, understand the disease to find innovative solutions, and develop infrastructure for the easy disbursal of medicines, social scientists were also required to get a deeper insight into the situation and comprehend people’s attitudes and inhibitions.
This was a good example where the two fields worked together to come up with innovative solutions to help society at large.
2. Shaping public policies in favor of engineering technology
Politicians play an important role in making policies that are beneficial for people, society as well as the environment. The decisions made by governments today might have a long-term effect on innovation and the technological development of the future.
Therefore, a government and its policymakers need to work with engineers so that common ground can emerge out of the collaboration. While public policies need to promote engineering technologies, they also need to ensure that these technologies are sustainable for the future.
It is true that the veterans of technology and the policymakers do not speak the same language. However, in order to succeed and have a bright future, they need to come together so that the big problems of climate change and others can be sorted in the most innovative way.
3. Influencing the public opinion
It is important to have the public opinion in favor of technology in order for it to succeed in its pursuit. Normally, people who are not in the scientific field are scared of technological advancements because they are not comfortable with their unforeseeable consequences.
In such a scenario, the role of social scientists becomes crucial. They can easily explain the positive aspects of engineering technology to people.
They can also show historical evidence and get the public opinion to support engineering technology or even convince people by using positive examples. For instance, currently, a lot of development is happening in the field of Internet of Things (IoT).
It is the next big thing that influences the lives of people directly. It essentially makes your home smart by using wireless communication networks and bringing machines and other household appliances together so that they can interact with each other.
This technology can make the lives of people much easier because it helps them communicate with their household appliances remotely. While there is a section of society that is excited about this concept, there is another part that is highly skeptical about it.
In this case, social sciences can be used to understand public values and how they react to such developments. With the help of social science research and surveys, both engineers and social scientists can understand the inhibitions of people better and address them accordingly to influence public opinion.
4. Helping with risk analysis
When it comes to engineering technology, the risk is inevitable. Therefore, it is the responsibility of social sciences to design engineering codes that they can follow in order to ensure the safety of workers as well as the general public.
A lack of proper risk assessment methodology can severely affect people in the case of an accident due to a technical error. Hence, if there are proper standards that all engineers have to follow in order to get ahead with the technological developments, the chances of hazards are reduced to the minimum.
5. Setting up standards that need to be followed
Following the previous point, after proper risk analysis, social scientists can set up standards for safety concerns. This can be effective for all kinds of developments and innovations in engineering technology.
With the growing dependence on technology, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and others, the risk of its negative impact also increases.
Therefore, social scientists must be active in setting up standards so that the risks can be mitigated. These standards can come from a centralized agency, a governmental body or an international organization.
But the most important thing is to have these standards in order to ensure the reliability, sustainability, and safety of the technology.
6. Broadening the understanding of historical and cultural references to assess the evolution of ideas
The engineering education in Sweden suggested that history should be included in the engineering curriculum. It expands the horizons of engineers and helps them get an understanding of the development of ideas amidst social changes.
Reading and understanding the history of technological development and ideas makes sure that graduate students do not go through the entire process of “reinventing” something that has already been created.
Having a better knowledge of history also helps students be more multi-disciplinary in their approach and take ideas from sociology, economics, and political science. It also makes them more empathetic and focused on technological development that is the need of the hour.
7. Bringing ethics within the arena of engineering technology
Scientific technologies without some elements of ethics cannot guarantee the welfare of society. Without the integration of societal needs in the field of technological development, it is not possible to solve the problems of society.
Ethics can aid engineering and technology by helping it keep the “commodification” aspect in check. Today, the basic human necessities have been “commodified,” and things like food, clothing, shelter, fuel as well as health services must be bought instead of being supplied in non-monetary ways.
In this aspect, even though there are countries that still consider these basic everyday necessities as non-commodities, plenty of others treat them as goods and services that must be bought and sold. This commercialization of the fundamental things that humans require in order to survive has brought about a grave risk in the area of engineering and technology.
This also brings about a lot of ethical concerns as the people with little to no resources at their disposal are largely deprived of these basic necessities. It thus poses a risk to technological advancements and this is precisely where social sciences can help enhance the social conditions that humans live in without any monetary gains.
These 7 ways clearly indicate the importance of social sciences amidst all the technological advancements in engineering. If engineers have a better idea about the various subject matters in social sciences and they actively incorporate them in the pursuit of technological innovations, they can enrich their experience and expertise in the area.
They can also develop better technological solutions that are conducive to the societal needs and sustainable at the same time. Similarly, social scientists also need to work closely with engineers so that they can act as a link between people and technology.
In short, an amalgamation of the two is the right way to go about it and can bring about favorable changes in society and for humanity at large.