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Moshe Kam - President And CEO, IEEE

CrazyEngineers exclusive interview with Moshe Kam of IEEE as a part of Founders Circuit initiative
CrazyEngineers
CrazyEngineers Staff · 30 Jun 2011
Founders Circuit Team
"Engineering has profound impact on humans and on the environment."
- Moshe Kam, IEEE

Moshe Kam (Ph.D., P.E.) is the Department Head and Robert Quinn Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Drexel University. He also serves as Director of the Drexel University National Security Agency (NSA) Center for Excellence in Information Assurance Education, and as Director of the Data Fusion Laboratory.

We asked Mr. Kam about his great work and responsibilities as the IEEE President and CEO, challenges faced by IEEE and future plans of this great organization.

Check out our Small Talk with Mr. Moshe Kam -

CE: You are the President and CEO of IEEE. Could you tell us more about the responsibilities you’re handling?

Mr. Kam: I am heading an organization which has more than 400,000 members in 160 countries, and close to 1200 staff members in eight offices around the globe.

We have a worldwide sophisticated operation which engages in the following:
(1) Publication of scholarly journals in several advanced areas within engineering, computing and technology
(2) Organizing conferences, symposia and workshops in these areas (we arrange more than 1200 technical conferences every year)
(3) Creation and maintaining a library of technical standards (such as the IEEE 802 family of standards)
(4) Assisting policy making bodies with information on trends and impact of regulation in engineering, computing and technology
(5) Representing the profession in public forums
(6) Undertaking a wide spectrum of educational activities – from those geared toward pre-university students as young as 8, to continuing education geared toward practicing engineers with many years of experience.

As President and CEO I convene the highest governing bodies of this large organization (the IEEE Board of Directors and the IEEE Assembly) for discussions and decisions that determine the direction and the long term strategy of IEEE. We make decisions on investment and development of key activities; accept or reject large proposals for future projects; monitor progress of our enterprises (e.g., publishing, conferences, standards, education); determine strategies for globalization; and determine the budget.

In addition I represent IEEE in many forums and meetings – some of them have to do with joint projects that we conduct with other organizations (such as the United Nations or a national government); some relate to public policy; and some are ceremonial – such as dedication of IEEE Milestones. These Milestones commemorate significant inventions and discoveries in Electrical Engineering, Electronics Engineering and Computing.

I make sure that I visit on a regular basis our geographical units (most recently I met our volunteers in Benelux, Israel and Switzerland) and that I come to meetings of the governing bodies of our technical societies and our standards operation. As you can imagine these duties keep me quite busy.

CE: How do you spend a typical weekday at office?

Mr. Kam: My main office is at my workplace – Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, USA. I do my work for IEEE as a volunteer, on top of my work duties at Drexel, where I am currently Department Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering. When I am in the main office, I spend most of my time on my responsibilities as professor, advisor to graduate students, and Department Head. It is critical that all these responsibilities be discharged first and well. I am assisted by university administrators, colleagues and students with whom I meet to review progress of our various projects and help guide future work. In addition, I may from time to time engage in IEEE-related teleconferences, speak to volunteers and staff as needed, and receive visitors that need IEEE business carried out. To allow all this to happen, my itinerary is tightly controlled – I end every meeting by determination of time and place for a follow-up and I am guided strictly by my planned schedule. My day usually starts at 7AM, I work at home at my computer until 9:30AM, I then drive to Drexel and stay until about 10PM.

When I am on the road for IEEE, my day follows the specific activity I am part of – but part of the day is also devoted to my work at Drexel. Besides the IEEE meetings and ceremonies, I would speak to my students, have teleconferences with professors and administrators at Drexel, and in general make sure that my being away has minimal (ideally, no) impact on progress there.

CE: IEEE is the world's largest professional technology association. What are the challenges faced by engineers working at IEEE?

Mr. Kam: Very few engineers work at IEEE but hundreds of thousands belong to IEEE as members. They are challenged by <span style="text-decoration: underline;">ever more demanding technical tasks</span>, some imposed by nature, some imposed by human development and environmental protection needs, and some presented by competition from other engineers and engineering firms. They are also challenged by the <span style="text-decoration: underline;">unending march of technology</span> which provides at the same time new discoveries and tools, but also offers new problems and increase performance expectations. Another source of challenges is <span style="text-decoration: underline;">changes in the business climate</span>, migration of work from region to region, new business models, and changes in funding of engineering work. While some of these challenges may sound daunting, engineers tend to welcome them, rise to the occasion almost every time, and more often than not provide workable solutions to the most perplexing and complex tests of their abilities.

CE: What are your views about the current state of engineering education? Do you propose any changes to it?

Mr. Kam: I believe engineering education will see a major reform whether or not the engineering profession and academic engineering departments lead this reform. There are simply too many strong forces that would disturb the status quo. I foresee engineering education that is much more tied to computing – to the point that the role of computing will be recognized to be as fundamental as some of the Calculus and Physics topics that we acknowledge today. I foresee a much less regimented education in engineering, where one is no longer defined strictly as “an electrical engineer” or as “a civil engineer” – the disciplines keeps merging and blending. Also, I believe that we will spend much more time with future engineers on verbal and written communications; on elements of law and business; and on training in team work. I do not think that the engineer of 2050 would recognize the structure and philosophy of the 2011 engineering curriculum.

CE: Why is it important to encourage more women to take up engineering as their career?

Mr. Kam: I start with the premise that with very few exceptions no society can have too many engineers. When seemingly there are too many of our kind, we tend to develop new products and services for the enhanced welfare of society, and quickly correct the employment imbalance. In this context, it is unacceptable that half of the human population, with its talents, imaginations and intellectual power will not participate or will participate only on a limited basis. Many women have the abilities to develop rewarding careers as engineers. That most of these talented potential engineers do not participate, is a tremendous loss – both to them and to our society.

CE: What are your expectations from the student members of IEEE?

Mr. Kam: I expect student members to use their college years in pursuit of as many topics and sub-disciplines within engineering and computing as they can. In this way, they would get during their schooling as wide a view of what our profession has to offer. I hope that in addition to dedicating the majority of their time to study, they will find time to engage in activities that benefit their community and the neighborhoods where their schools are located. I want them to be sociality and professionally active, and remember that engineering at its best is a “contact sport” – performed with many colleagues and co-workers, in cooperation of many talents.

CE: What are IEEE’s plans for the future?

Mr. Kam: IEEE is keen on maintaining and expanding its role as a key resource to the profession and to society in all areas of advanced technology, engineering and computing. To this end, IEEE is taking actions such as

 (1) expanding its technical activities at the intersection between electrical engineering,computer engineering,computer science,life sciences; we believe that it is at this intersection that much of what is exciting and useful in engineering will be made available to humanity in the next three decades;

 (2) provide products and services, such as new journals, conferences and educational material, in emerging sub-disciplines such as cloud computing and the smart grid 

(3) support and strengthen members and volunteers in areas of the world that were under-represented in IEEE so far – we want to attract tens of thousands of new members and student members in places from Indonesia to Bolivia and from Tanzania to Tajikistan;

 (4) help pre-university students, understand better and relate to engineering and engineering design, and increase their propensity to select engineering and computing as future career paths; 

(5) help correct the gender imbalance in engineering and computing by making them at the same time more accessible, hospitable and welcoming to women.

CE: Companies meet demand and have their own research work and patents and standards worked upon faster, whilst IEEE tends to set common standards which takes much time. Is there any way in which both can be brought in coherence with each other?

Mr. Kam: While the standardization process as implemented by IEEE is deliberate and involves wide consultation, it would be a mistake to present it as being at odds with standardization work done by companies and corporations. In fact, the vast majority of standard development inside IEEE is sponsored by companies that have interest in the standard’s subject matter; is conducted by employees of these companies; and it takes advantage of the experience and proposals developed by the sponsoring corporations. In order to gain credibility and wide use, however, it is hardly ever sufficient to accept what one company brings to the table. We seek wide participation of all responsible parties, and we believe that a standard that was developed through a wide consensus is almost always superior to adopting what a single firm proposes (which might be tightly tied to this firm’s commercial interests). It is true that this process is by definition slower than what a single company can accomplish, but in general we believe that it yields a much more robust standard at the end.

CE: You have an interest in Robotics and Navigation. What is your opinion about ‘Robots with emotions’ being a reality soon?

Mr. Kam: My opinion is that such robots will not be a reality soon. We are indeed closer than ever to creating machines that behave as if they feel – in the sense that they replicate the mechanisms that demonstrate emotion in humans. However does a machine that demonstrates such emotions really feel them, or is it merely clever programming that replicates the symptoms? For example, will a human observer respond in the same way to the “emotions” of a silicon-based machine as to the same emotions expressed by another human being? I am not sure we are at that stage yet. For some entertaining discussion of this question with a few interesting links, see the Quora discussion “Will machines ever feel emotion?” (https://www.quora.com/Will-machines-ever-feel-emotion).

CE: What will be your message to the CrazyEngineers Community Members aka CEans?

Mr. Kam: I am very impressed with your community – this is one of the finest uses of Internet technology for idea exchange between engineers. I hope that in your discussions and exchanges you will remember at all times that engineering has profound impact on humans and on the environment. We carry, often implicitly, a huge responsibility for the fate of humanity and for the well being of the Earth. Looking at each device or algorithm on its own seldom provides this sense, and lack of wider vision serves those who misuse engineering. The onus is on us to be not just engineers but be also responsible engineers.