Dean’s word: Inventing a better future

May 1, 2017
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Spring 2017

The best minds. The hardest problems. A setting that sparks collaboration. These are the key ingredients in a new initiative we are launching, one with an audacious goal: to invent a better, more promising future for generations to come.

An interdisciplinary community engaged in well-designed innovation and new venture creation.

Nationally, we are confronted by challenges — an aging set of infrastructures, inefficient healthcare delivery, a changing labor market in the new “sharing economy.” However, we have rapidly evolving technologies at hand to drive solutions to these problems, provided we take care to develop them responsibly.

In our early thinking, our “Institute for Inventing the Future” would enable us to pursue these questions. Such a hub would be more than a contemplative think tank. We would engage an interdisciplinary community of researchers, students and stakeholders in well-designed innovation and new venture creation, focusing on several high-impact domains:

  • Dean Sastry and faculty panel at a Dean's Society eventDean Shankar Sastry introduces a faculty panel discussing California’s next-generation infrastructure at a Dean’s Society event this spring. Seated from left, David Sedlak and Susan Shaheen of CEE and Costas Spanos and Claire Tomlin of EECS.The future of health: Drawing on work in neural prostheses, customized therapies and other advances, we aim to realize the potential of personalized medicine as well as “Health @ Home” — enabling wellness, healing and aging in place untethered from clinical settings.
  • The future of cognition: Developments in virtual reality, augmented reality and body sensor networks are unveiling the “human intranet,” heightening our experience of live performances and giving us the ability to tailor education to individual learning styles.
  • The future of work: As robots come to coexist with humans in the workplace, how do we make them able collaborators? More broadly, as automation changes the workforce, how can we design new jobs that draw on human-machine interaction?
  • The future of mobility: Where are ride-sharing services, self-driving cars and delivery drones taking us? How can we steer these disruptions in ways that reduce congestion and pollution and offer more ease of use?
  • The future of infrastructure: The Internet of Things is transforming our physical infrastructures into “cyber-physical systems,” embedded with sensing and computation. How can we inject these technologies into our communications, transportation, energy, water and other infrastructures while enhancing their resilience to attacks and protecting the privacy of the public?

In each of these domains, we recognize the unprecedented extent of technology’s integration into our daily lives. Technology has always shaped how we live, and it is up to us to invent our future with holistic considerations of ethics, personal rights and social justice built in from the start. In this way, we will continue to uphold our core mission of educating leaders, creating knowledge and serving society.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

—S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies