Adaptive Engineering / by Jay Lewis

In originally contemplating the field of “Adaptive Engineering,” I just assumed that it was a well established discipline with the usual representative associations and hierarchies. Wikipedia put me straight on that notion.  ”The page does not exist.”  Well maybe that is where we have been going wrong.

Yes, in some sense, we have been adapting everything in sight since humans got tools.  If the prime definition of adapt is “to make fit,” then we have been very busy at that.  It has largely been a process of making our earth fit our requirements.  Much of the effort has been a sort of Procrustes’ Bedaffair – a rather uncomfortable process for our fellow travelers on this planet.

So we can either try to adapt the world to ourselves or design our activities and physical assets to fit in a non-disruptive way within our residential ecosystems.  We have spent much of human history attempting the former with very mixed, long term effects.

One of Terra Firm’s businesses, is retrofitting  buildings so that they and their contents are not damaged or destroyed in an earthquake, with the attending nasty consequences for the inhabitants.  Most buildings in earthquake zones were not built with the seismic forces in mind, because we weren’t aware of the degree of risk or we simply didn’t want to spend the extra money.  People were very concerned about this issue for a few years after the recent San Francisco and Los Angeles quakes.  We have regressed in our remedial activity recently in spite of damaging events in Sumatra, Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan.  We can’t bolt the San Andreas Fault together and we are not focussed on designing buildings for strong ground motion – maladaptation.

Our energy use runs from the sophisticated (smartphones and laptops) to the crude crude (internal combustion engines and furnaces).  We are still building homes, offices and industrial plants as if energy was cheap, plentiful and without extraction and distribution consequences.  We can get better at this.  We are building our business on making homes more like smartphones in their energy use.  There are still some who think we should be moving our cities away from the rising oceans and broadcasting particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s radiant heat – adapting to our failure to adapt.

Maybe someday, we will have an International Association for Adaptive Engineering.  Millions of people are already working in this field, but they tend to be under thousands of different tents.  For humans, the time frame to make changes to our operating mode may be relatively short.  Many of the other species that seem better at adapting and will likely continue with the evolutionary experience.