European Car: What is your official title? Give us a brief description of what you do on a daily basis in your position.
Kim Reynolds: Testing Director, Motor Trend – which says almost nothing about what I actually do each day. Our three-person car-testing team works fairly autonomously, each of us handling a specific area that needs to get done. Mine is driving for our “figure-8” handling test, cobbling together test equipment, crunching performance numbers, making graphics, writing stories, and explaining why stories are late.
EC: Did you know from an early age you would work in the sciences? Did you take apart household appliances or build a working nuclear reactor from Lego?
KR: Yes, from an early age. A great benefit of being “older” is that when I was younger, there were no Internets and iPhones and Facebooks to distract a kid from spending countless hours at a workbench in the garage just tinkering with stuff.
EC: Where did you go to school and how would you describe your experience in the engineering program?
KR: I went to UC Irvine. My experience was pretty rocky, actually. Over the years I’ve slowly come to accept that there are many paths to knowing engineering and mine has been almost entirely about acquiring what I need to know about a problem en route to trying to solve a problem I care about. Call it lifelong learning. Call it the only way I’ve ever worked effectively.
EC: Growing up as someone with an interest and presumed talent for science and math, did you find that challenging in school and what are the rewards now? What would you tell your younger self about how things change?
KR: While the fundamental tools you’ll learn—math skills, mainly—are forever useful (though they were certainly a stubborn challenge for me in school), it’s actually been learning how to look at a problem, scientifically, logically, that’s been the most valuable thing of all. Understanding what matters—and equally important, what really doesn’t matter—in tackling a problem, is really what separates engineers from untrained thinkers. Recently, I had the chance to help my daughter build a toothpick bridge for a statics class in high school. I’d built a bridge way back in college—which I still have—and it was really fascinating to explain to her why I made the decisions I did in designing it, where the critical loads are, and so forth. Logical analysis of a problem never goes out of date.
EC: If you could start work on an engineering dream project today, no budget, no limits, completely blue-sky, what would it be and give me the two-minute overview of how you would achieve the objective.
KR: This will sound a little odd. And while it doesn’t appear to be a traditional engineering problem, if I were somehow able to work on it I’d be using all of the logical tactics you’d acquire as engineer—in full-force. And what is the “it” I’d pursue? I think we’re getting close to—what with the speed of computation, the dropping cost of data storage, and the rapidly advancing development of artificial intelligence—the capability of creating an artificial (software) version of human “wisdom.” This would be like a vast brain that never grows old and dies but is always learning from the successes and mistakes of all of our individual lives. Wars are fought at regular intervals throughout time because whole generations forget their lessons; each 100 years, virtually every person dies and is replaced by new humans who have to learn all of humanity’s knowledge (and errors) all over again. Artificial intelligence (designed for good and not evil!) could profoundly change the whole trajectory of human progress—and we’re closing in on finally having that. I think it would be an incredible thing to contribute to.