The urgent challenges facing our planet demand new cooperation and new solutions.
There is great hope for overcoming these urgent challenges, particularly by harnessing the engineered technologies we are creating, which place in our hands disproportionately greater capabilities and reach than ever before.
But as our technologies grow more powerful, so do the potentials for unintended consequences. As we enter an era of engineering new forms of societally-embedded intelligence, planetary processes, and basic mechanisms of life, there is simply no room for unintended consequences.
With long traditions of scholarship, discovery, and commitment to society, Princeton stands ready to respond. Recognizing the complexity of the challenges before us, we are pursuing meaningful societal impact through the practice of design. Design is deliberated change — a rigorous process for gathering perspectives and asking deep questions to unleash greater creativity and to meet real-world constraints and values by eliminating the blind spots born of narrow thinking. Design at Princeton leverages our strengths in engineering, natural sciences, social
sciences, and humanities to form the foundation for achieving positive societal impact through innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Keller Center serves as a hub for this convergence, with a broad range of on- and off-campus partners and stakeholders. Working across academic disciplines, communities, businesses, and governments is powerful, but fraught with barriers. Anyone who has worked with experts and stakeholders from widely varying viewpoints can attest to the frictions that can result. But we are discovering new ways of working together through projects led by Princeton researchers — projects that place urgent problems directly in their crosshairs, but also serve to establish new models for academic and real-world collaboration.
Just one example of such a collaborative project is led by Carolyn Rouse, the chair of the anthropology department and Princeton’s inaugural Ritter Professor, a new position that connects faculty to the Keller Center to encourage human-centered approaches to solving societal problems. Carolyn is establishing a project for stormwater management in the municipality of Princeton by collaborating with expert colleagues and students in civil and environmental engineering, computer science, and anthropology, together with municipal managers in city planning, engineering, and policy.
Students and faculty continue to create incredibly differentiated technologies through ideas that are only possible because of deep disciplinary expertise. In this magazine we see new ventures spinning out of Princeton Engineering to deliver life-saving drugs and vaccines, instantly detect COVID, solve the problem of spent batteries in our emerging electric economy, and more. While our technologies incorporate the deepest levels of engineering design, we as a community move toward the design of societal impact, through understanding derived from classes and projects like Carolyn’s.
Empowered by design, we see innovation and entrepreneurship as tremendous vehicles for such societal impact. We have just begun to scratch the surface, and I hope you will bring your ambitions and perspectives to this initiative — as with all forms of engineering, our success will be derived directly from the diversity of perspectives we bring.
Director, Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Director, Program in Technology and Society
Director, Program in Entrepreneurship