"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, September 10, 2007

Policy as a Problem in Engineering

I couldn't resist attending this talk. It wasn't especially well-attended, and I think the audience that appeared was not entirely receptive. I enjoyed it though.
Corey King
President, Energetics Research and Engineering

Design Synthesis of Multistable Equilibrium Systems and the World Development/Energy Path

Design synthesis can be thought of as picking a desired outcome and then figuring out how to achieve that outcome as well as determining if it is even possible. In this presentation I will discuss the design synthesis methodology for a class of engineering systems and how the design synthesis context could be used for future planning of world development and energy resource usage.

The engineering systems discussed are termed Multistable Equilibrium (MSE) systems. MSE systems are those physical systems, usually mechanical components, that can reside in more than one stable equilibrium position. Each position can have a different configuration, stiffness, or local frequency response to achieve multiple functionality in the same device.

The MSE design methodology is based upon shaping energy curves. This concept of ‘shaping the curve’ will then be expanded to discuss curves that can describe future energy resource usage. Any given desired shape of a ‘future curves’ has much to say about short, medium, and long term preferences and goals. The chosen shape of a future energy curve also entails ethical issues related to sustainability.

I liked seeing someone try to apply control theory to the big big picture. I felt vindicated when he talked about what I would call the multiple regimes of the earth system. He independently concluded that effective reasoning about the world changes as time scales become longer.

Interestingly, he had a military/security time scale that surprised me. King suggests that this time scale, the one where you try to keep ahead of competing countries so you can be safe, was intermediate between the economic and the environmental time scale. As a pretty much rootless person, this whole way of thinking has always been alien to me. It may be helpful in getting certain other mindsets past the purely econometric viewpoint, though.

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