The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACCGH) hosted a very successful dinner meeting with Dr. John Lienhard on February 13th at the Briar Club. The sold out event was attended by a wide spectrum of people whose common interest lay in the brilliant mind of Dr. Lienhard. His program “Engines of our Ingenuity” is aired twice daily on KUHF 88.7. Dr. Lienhard averages fifty speaking engagements in a year. The chamber was very fortunate to get a speaker of such high caliber to come address the members and guests.
Over a sumptuous dinner the attendees networked with their peers and gained valuable business contacts. Mr. Jagdip Ahluwalia, Vice President, opened up the evening, by welcoming everyone to this unique event of listening to a much sought after speaker live. On behalf of the Chamber Mr. Ahluwalia thanked Worldwide Oilfield Machines for partly sponsoring the event. He also thanked Mr. Vijay Goradia and Dr. Durga Agrawal for sponsoring students from the University of Houston and Rice. Mr. Ashoke Nath, President of the Chamber, briefly welcomed some of the distinguished guest such as Dr. William Fitzgibbon, Professor of Mathematics at University of Houston to the event. On behalf of the Chamber he also welcomed new members of the board Mr. Somesh Singh of BMC and Mr. Paul Likhari of Bioassay laboratories.
Dr. Durga Agrawal introduced the speaker and gave a brief over view of his many accomplishments. John H. Lienhard is the M.D. Anderson Professor of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston where he has taught since 1980. Dr. Lienhard holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Known for his research in the thermal sciences as well as in cultural history, he is the author or co-author of four books and more than 300 articles. Dr. Lienhard is the author and voice of more than 1,400 episodes of The Engines of Our Ingenuity, a daily public radio series about machines and the people who created them. Transcripts of all episodes are available on the Engines web site at www.uh.edu/engines. For his work on Engines, ASME awarded him the 1998 Engineer Historian award and the 1989 Ralph Coates Roe Award for contributions to the public understanding of technology. American Women in Radio and Television honored him with the1991 Portrait Division Award.
He is an Honorary Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 1991 the University of Houston presented Dr. Lienhard with its highest faculty honor, the Esther Farfel Award for excellence in research, teaching and service to his profession and the community.
Dr. Lienhards talk was on “Innovations, A Dangerous Guest- Do you really want creative people in your organization?”
Dr. Lienhard recounted the failed Cyclo-Crane invention, which embodied the relationship between invention and business. Technology cannot flourish, said Dr. Lienhard, without somebody taking a risk on it. The reckless people, who are willing to take risks, survive and every generation has its risk takers. Writer Melvin Konner explains that psychologists identify four faces of a risk-taker. They are: One the thrill and adventure seeking; two experience seeking; three uninhibited; fourth boredom susceptibility. These four faces fit Dr. Lienhards idea of an inventive mind. Invention is the primal act of human recklessness. We are the only species to give the fruit of our invention over to the next generation.
Dr. Lienhard chooses to invent a word, Panvention- a noun, made by combining the Greek word Pan, which means all of us and invention. Panvention is a part of every humans life. It is essential to every level of human improvement and everyone has done it for as long as they can remember. But, we are reminded, when we invent new technologies, things bite back. He refers to Edward Tenners book Why Things Bite Back. Safety devices lull us into believing we are safe, but when we mess with the natural order of things, things bites back. New technologies have improved the quality of life. Medical procedures have reduced the time we spend in hospitals and hastened recovery, but the number of procedures and medications a patient needs, has gone up dramatically. Tenner calls this the Revenge effect.
The same thing applies to the engineering systems that a lot of people in the group deal with. Complex devices produce revenge effects. Computers have made a lot of work simpler, but it has made some things more complex and produced a different set of health problems. Does that mean that we turn away from new technology? No says Dr. Lienhard, ” The day we quit pioneering, we quit being human”. But we need to be alert to early warnings and be ready to back off when necessary. If we fail to heed the warnings, then nature bites back.
In closing Dr. Lienhard said that if we want to embrace invention and reap its benefits, we have to be prepared to embrace five things; Risk, Sharing, Freedom, Pleasure and Fear. Fear of being sealed off by society, one has to be brave to be inventive. The very interesting talk was followed by a spirited round of questions and answers.