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Engineers moral responsibility -Poll


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Poll: Engineers moral responsibility -Poll (29 member(s) have cast votes)

Are engineers responsible?

  1. Yes, everytime (6 votes [20.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 20.00%

  2. No, never (3 votes [10.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 10.00%

  3. To a limited extent (Discuss) (15 votes [50.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 50.00%

  4. Yes, over and above civil responsibility (6 votes [20.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 20.00%

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#1 RDV

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Posted 14 November 2012 - 17:02

Discuss...

Albert Speer did not, as far as any historians know, personally design any death chambers, nor did he personally kill another human being. But Speer did use his brilliant technical expertise and talents to enable the war efforts of the most evil regime in history, allowing it to murder millions of human beings.
But even as we condemn him, we must ask — especially we engineers and technicians — is Speer so different from us? How many of us would be willing to compartmentalize our emotions, suppress our consciences, almost to sell our souls, for the opportunity to work on the grand projects that Speer was involved in?
How many of us are so focused on solving a technical problem that we fail to contemplate where that solution might lead?



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#2 RDV

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:31

The authors of the textbook Engineering and Society: Challenges of Professional Practice point out that “as the technical content of engineering programs has increased, treatment of broader social issues has tended to be squeezed out. An underlying assumption has been that technology is value-free and that therefore any consideration of human emotions, needs, and aspirations is extraneous, if not irrational. Many engineering courses have been structured so that they avoid explicit value judgments.”

Today’s engineers need a more well-rounded education — one that stresses not only the analytical skills necessary to be a good engineer but also the liberal arts that are necessary to teach these good engineers the wisdom of history, to provide the foundation for young students to grow and mature as citizens with responsibilities beyond the immediate technical concerns of their work. And the liberal arts can train a young mind to think critically and discriminately about moral questions — aiding in the ability to determine what is right and what is wrong. Most engineers are gifted in math and science; this alone is not sufficient to make them responsible or moral human beings.

Peter Drucker, the business consultant who was instrumental in pushing the management team running General Motors to train its managers in the liberal arts, once wrote that “first-rate engineers ... tend to take pride in not knowing anything about people. Human beings, they believe, are much too disorderly for the good engineering mind.” Perhaps it is time that the engineering profession acknowledged this attitude, and rejected it. We engineers are better and more than the machines we create; we are responsible, not only to ourselves and to our employers, but to our fellow human beings. The humanities offer engineering students the lessons of life and history that are not found in our technical world.

+1...my view in a nutshell...

#3 275 GTB-4

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:04

Every ginger beer I have ever worked with or spoke to....were basically "politicians"....rhetoric rather than hard decisions based on technical assessment, understanding and informed opinion...DISCUSS THAT!!! :rotfl:

#4 Wirra

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:53

Moral responsibility is applicable to all professions, yet failure is repeated over and over again in the corporate world, e.g. Journalist at NEWS Ltd

#5 desmo

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 15:22

I think as post secondary education becomes looked at (at least it is in the US) more and more as primarily vocational in nature this focus on getting a degree in X so one can make money mindset crowds out any chance of education as it really should be-- building better citizens and society. The outrageous costs associated with post-secondary education in the US feed this society-killing attitude as well. Beyond that modern capitalist society is really rather blind to morality, the pursuit of money as one's primary goal in life pretty much leads to a sociopathic view of ones relationship with ones fellow citizens.

#6 Fat Boy

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 17:17

Personal responsibility. Hmmm, quite the concept.

'Modern capitalist society' is not any more blind to morality than any other society that has ever been. In many ways, we're more morality driven that our predecessors. for instance, modern capitalist society doesn't condone slavery, something still practiced quietly in much of the world.

Morality is a strange thing. RDV's excerpt seems to say that it's up to a school or university to teach morals. Sorry, too late. Morals start at home with parents. They need to be instilled in children from birth. While a school can provide a historical perspective and philosophical discussions, by the time a person is a young adult, their moral code is fairly well defined.

The other issue is that morality is a nebulous thing. What is encouraged in some parts of the world is shunned in others. So that poses the question, if we are asking a state institution of higher learning to be a moral weather vane, is that a smart thing? By what moral code are we going to adhere to? The government's? Please!

There's the mention on Hiroshima/Nagasaki. The second naval battle of Guadalcanal was yesterday (Nov. 14) in 1942. Should we ask the men that fought there if it was more moral or less moral to drop atomic weapons than a different type of assault? Perspective is everything.

Morals are certainly important, but I shudder to think what refuse would be born of institutionalizing them.


#7 Tenmantaylor

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 17:52

Not many engineers can fully predict the possible implications of their inventions, one of the best/worst examples is this guy http://en.wikipedia....mas_Midgley,_Jr

In a nutshell this guy invented leaded fuel and the industrial use of CFCs. Not as dramatic as Oppenheimer but the medical bill is probably higher.

The only way to avoid these problems in the future is more advanced health and safety and environmental considerations in R+D facilities the world over. Spending money to find out you can't make money from something you've already spent a lot of money on isn't usually something that goes down well at board meetings though.

Edited by Tenmantaylor, 15 November 2012 - 18:05.


#8 bigleagueslider

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 00:15

I feel that anyone (engineers included), involved in any form of business or organization, has a moral obligation to accept responsibility if they become aware that the activity they are engaged in may/did result in unnecessary harm to others. Of course, offhand I can't think of many examples where an engineer has intentionally designed some product that was intended to cause harm to innocent parties.

I also feel that engineers, and the businesses they work for, should not be held responsible for misuse of their product or unforeseeable damage their product may cause. Consider the case of George Nissen, inventor of the trampoline. Each year, trampolines cause over 100,000 injuries, many of these being serious spine and neck injuries to young children. If Mr. Nissen were still alive today, would it be fair to hold him partially liable for these injuries? As a society, we must carefully consider the ramifications of extending the traditional limits of professional liability. Doing so would greatly disincentivize innovation and technological development.

Lastly, I do feel that society should hold our elected officials more personally accountable for the negative effects of their decisions. Presently they have almost no accountability for the decisions they make, which quite often have very serious consequences.

#9 Greg Locock

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 00:59

re the original article I'd a thunk a NASA guy could have written a far more intelligent appraisal of von Braun's career.

Seems like a lot of hand wringing to me, given that the victors write the history books.

So, is the question - should you work productively for a regime that you disagree with? should you work productively for a regime other people disagree with?



#10 Fat Boy

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 05:30

I feel that anyone (engineers included), involved in any form of business or organization, has a moral obligation to accept responsibility if they become aware that the activity they are engaged in may/did result in unnecessary harm to others.


So how many corpses do we lay at the door of Karl Benz? How about Sam Colt? No way, BLS. I completely disagree. The people who are recklessly driving cars or shooting pistols are responsible for deaths they cause, not the person who created a perfectly good tool. I think Mayor Bloomberg of New York is going to open an investigation on the inventor of the fork for creating fat people, but I'm not sure he's got a case. In my mind, it's still an issue of personal responsibility.

The guy who designed the Nazi death chambers is a bit of a special case scenario. Certainly, there's enough blame to go around for that one. Furthermore, there was only one legitimate use for something of that nature.

#11 Canuck

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 06:16

...society is really rather blind to morality, the pursuit of money as one's primary goal in life pretty much leads to a sociopathic view of ones relationship with ones fellow citizens.

It would seem that as individual people - fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives - we're very much aware of our actions and perhaps more-so the actions of others relative to our moral compass. As employees and employers, entrepreneurs and business people and as a group, I believe that awareness becomes filtered. I'm a fan of the adage "no single rain drop feels itself responsible for the flood" - it's applicable to so much around us.

So where do you draw the line? As the machinist making the coil tubing chain that feeds the fracing pipe underground? As the chemist that designs the mix the aforementioned pipe feeds underground? The mechanical engineer who designs the pumps capable of ramming that mixture deep underground, fracturing the porous cavities to release more natural gas? As the CEO or finance team that implements the practice?



#12 Paolo

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 09:03

It should not be forgotten that Speer was a German helping his country in a war effort. His position is similar to that of any German soldier in WWII.
I don't blame him, it was not a clear cut choice, and it is unfair to state that he was just driven by a passion for engineering.

#13 Wolf

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 11:55

I respectfully disagree, Paolo- Speer was no soldier. He was a politician, and was convicted for crimes against humanity which he carried out as a person in position of power. As simple as that.

In my neck of woods, the difference between right and wrong in WWII was a bit less clear-cut than in most cases (clash of two ruthless, bloodthirsty totalitarian regimes- nazi and communist). Both of my grandfathers fought in the war on opposing sides- and I can point out that the one who fought on the wrong side did so chivalrously and with sense of right and wrong (e.g. I know of an instance where he forbade and prevented his unit's sentries to shoot at peasants who came to plunder their provisions- valuing human life over some military regulations and food).

I'm sure there are instances where there are subtler nuances than with Speer (I could think of Porsche who designed, among other things, a variant of panzer turret), but I doubt there are many individuals who can objectively judge the influence and nuances of those cases, even with the benefit of hindsight (or maybe even, because of it).

#14 desmo

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 15:38

In my family my father was an aerospace engineer who worked on military hardware and chose instead become a physics professor largely because of his moral discomfort with working on devices designed solely to kill large numbers of people. I think the decision was an ethically correct one.

#15 Fat Boy

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 17:30

In my family my father was an aerospace engineer who worked on military hardware and chose instead become a physics professor largely because of his moral discomfort with working on devices designed solely to kill large numbers of people. I think the decision was an ethically correct one.


The Cold War was based on that type of hardware. If it averted a much larger, 'Hot' war, then it saved large numbers of people. Now we don't know what an alternate time line might have looked like, but as a thought experiment, there are numerous ways at viewing the situation.

The guy who designed the Panzer tank and the guy would designed the gas chambers are not moral equivalents just because they both worked for the National Socialist Party. The Panzer was a weapon of war, which is meant to fight other weapons of war in an offensive or defensive manner. The gas chamber was strictly a weapon of genocide, which could have no other use but to kill innocents.

#16 Wolf

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 18:00

Fat Boy, your second point is to a degree accurate, but can also be made a bit more iffy... We have a luxury to judge such decisions, rather than the responsibility to make them- but those tanks helped Axis war effort, and may or may have not (irrelevant to my argument) killed civilians- but helping their war effort kept them in power and thereby indirectly facilitated operation of those gas chambers. But when the word responsibility (meaning, accountability) is used... I shudder to think how it would work in any legal system*.

* I can give you a fresh example from today- a completely bogus and fabricated charges against several high ranking officers of my country were dismissed by Hague tribunal (appeal tribunal overruled the original ruling of the court), and dissenting opinion of one of the judges (who are supposed to be creme de la creme) was that he did not think the court should only judge what happened and who was responsible, but that it should also send a political statement of a sort (implying he'd rather see innocent people rotting in jail in order to promote his idea of new world order). It makes one wonder...


EDIT: parts of the post got mixed up, so I had to edit to sort it out... *user error*

Edited by Wolf, 16 November 2012 - 18:02.


#17 Fat Boy

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 19:45

Fat Boy, your second point is to a degree accurate, but can also be made a bit more iffy...


I agree with your point, but have simply put where _my_ moral code leads me. Others will be different. This is why I think a university teaching some sort of industrialized moral code is foolhardy at best. It's a perfect 1984 scenario.

#18 Kalmake

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 20:35

I agree with your point, but have simply put where _my_ moral code leads me. Others will be different. This is why I think a university teaching some sort of industrialized moral code is foolhardy at best. It's a perfect 1984 scenario.


Moral philosophy aka ethics does not teach a moral code. To quote RDVs quote "train a young mind to think critically and discriminately about moral questions — aiding in the ability to determine what is right and what is wrong." It makes you less susceptible to any dictated moral code.

#19 Wolf

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 20:53

Fat Boy, don't get me wrong, I haven't expressed my opinion, just illustrating that things are rarely, if ever, black-and-white*... A wiser man than myself once said that "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike." (my sig will tell you who it was)

* I think we both see our interpretations are fairly logical and legitimate ways of considering rights and wrongs in that particular case. My point would be that making it strictly black-and-white and raining fire and brimstone of judgment would be fairly counterproductive from both points of view. As for teaching morals and ethics in schools, also see my sig.;)

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#20 275 GTB-4

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 23:19

In my family my father was an aerospace engineer who worked on military hardware and chose instead become a physics professor largely because of his moral discomfort with working on devices designed solely to kill large numbers of people. I think the decision was an ethically correct one.


Thats fine...except that he will fry like all the rest of us when WWW III occurs....you can take the high moral ground, but don't fool yourself that there aren't scads of others who will be thankful for the promotion and jump right in to the spot you just vacated! :)

#21 CSquared

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 00:13

+1...my view in a nutshell...

I have at least two major problems with this:
1. This tired, old stereotype of the engineer as a closed-minded buffoon who knows little about history or philosophy and isolates himself from his community. This thread, for example, so far has been a series of erudite posts from people who have a broad knowledge of history and sociology and who obviously think pretty hard about these questions. The writers of the textbook quoted above must've lived in a completely different time or place than I, because for just about everyone I know working in a technical field (mobile communication, biotech, green energy, medical research, etc) their jobs demand quite a lot of thought about "broader social issues" and about how their work affects people.

2. This attempted equivalence of "liberal-arts education" with "well-roundedness," "civic-mindedness," and, most preposterously, "ability to think critically." As if learning about Freudian analysis of Kafka's depictions of father figures or how Rothko mixed his paints better trains one to think critically or makes one a more moral citizen than learning how a tree grows or how to make a steam engine work most efficiently.

#22 gruntguru

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 03:45

Morality is a strange thing. RDV's excerpt seems to say that it's up to a school or university to teach morals. Sorry, too late. Morals start at home with parents. They need to be instilled in children from birth. While a school can provide a historical perspective and philosophical discussions, by the time a person is a young adult, their moral code is fairly well defined.

I will bet forum members can't even agree on WHAT should be taught. Adult humans apply their empathy toward others within vastly varying limits.

The sociopath cares only for himself.
Some people who care only for immediate family and friends - all others are outsiders of little or no value.
The average person cares somewhat for his own race and countrymen but why should his country accept refugees, care for the environment, donate foreign aid?
The fully aware individual cares about all of humanity - present and future, cares about the environment and all life on earth.

If world leaders were drawn exclusively from the last category this thread wouldn't exist.

#23 gruntguru

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 03:50

just about everyone I know working in a technical field (mobile communication, biotech, green energy, medical research, etc) their jobs demand quite a lot of thought about "broader social issues" and about how their work affects people.

Agree. In the western world at least, anyone working in design, research or development is required to risk asess every aspect of the distribuion, marketing, operation, consumption etc of the product of their labours.

#24 Rasputin

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 11:21

As an consultant engineer, last year I walked away from a defense-project after 16 weeks, when I realized how they were lying and ripping-off the taxpayers.

Lost at least 20 000 Euros on that one, but I'll do it again.

#25 bigleagueslider

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Posted 18 November 2012 - 02:29

So how many corpses do we lay at the door of Karl Benz? How about Sam Colt? No way, BLS. I completely disagree. The people who are recklessly driving cars or shooting pistols are responsible for deaths they cause, not the person who created a perfectly good tool. I think Mayor Bloomberg of New York is going to open an investigation on the inventor of the fork for creating fat people, but I'm not sure he's got a case. In my mind, it's still an issue of personal responsibility.

The guy who designed the Nazi death chambers is a bit of a special case scenario. Certainly, there's enough blame to go around for that one. Furthermore, there was only one legitimate use for something of that nature.


FB- Sorry if you misinterpreted my comments. I agree with you that Karl Benz, Samuel Colt, et al. should bear no responsibility for any injury their inventions may have caused, since they had no malicious intent when they created the device. I would go even further and suggest that many of the massive financial penalties assessed to private companies in recent history (ExxonMobil, BP, Monsanto, etc.) for accidental damages that resulted from their products or operations, were not entirely justified. These companies were prosecuted simply because they had deep pockets.

As for Albert Speer, if it makes sense to hold him criminally responsible in part for the millions of unnecessary deaths caused by the German National Socialist government's policies, then why was there never any effort on the part of international organizations like the UN to prosecute Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong or the many architects and engineers working within their respective administrations for far worse genocidal actions?


#26 Kalmake

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Posted 18 November 2012 - 16:33

As for Albert Speer, if it makes sense to hold him criminally responsible in part for the millions of unnecessary deaths caused by the German National Socialist government's policies, then why was there never any effort on the part of international organizations like the UN to prosecute Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong or the many architects and engineers working within their respective administrations for far worse genocidal actions?


I'm sure there was some effort, but Russia and China did not lose the war and they have veto power in the UN.

#27 J. Edlund

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Posted 18 November 2012 - 19:25

Not many engineers can fully predict the possible implications of their inventions, one of the best/worst examples is this guy http://en.wikipedia....mas_Midgley,_Jr

In a nutshell this guy invented leaded fuel and the industrial use of CFCs. Not as dramatic as Oppenheimer but the medical bill is probably higher.

The only way to avoid these problems in the future is more advanced health and safety and environmental considerations in R+D facilities the world over. Spending money to find out you can't make money from something you've already spent a lot of money on isn't usually something that goes down well at board meetings though.


I think it's easy for people to take the advantages offered by a technology for granted and only focus at the disadvantages when they criticize. While pure TEL certainly is toxic, it is not necessarily any worse than using less efficient low compression engines or some of other method to increase fuel octane, like raising the aromatics content of the fuel. It was first with the catalytic converter I think it became clear that the use of TEL had to stop. Midgleys problem with sick workers was also caused by the inadequate production methods used to produce the toxic TEL, with those early problems sorted out TEL was successfully used in a large scale for a very long time.

Similar, it is easy criticize the development of CFC’s in the comfort of your air-conditioned home. But the reality is that people still die of heat strokes, and fridges and freezers have done a lot to reduce disease, sickness and improve the living conditions for a lot of people. But it’s easy to forget that and focus on downsides only discovered much later.

So how many corpses do we lay at the door of Karl Benz? How about Sam Colt? No way, BLS. I completely disagree. The people who are recklessly driving cars or shooting pistols are responsible for deaths they cause, not the person who created a perfectly good tool. I think Mayor Bloomberg of New York is going to open an investigation on the inventor of the fork for creating fat people, but I'm not sure he's got a case. In my mind, it's still an issue of personal responsibility.

The guy who designed the Nazi death chambers is a bit of a special case scenario. Certainly, there's enough blame to go around for that one. Furthermore, there was only one legitimate use for something of that nature.


I think that any technology can be used with good and bad intentions and it up to the people using it to use it with responsibility. Of course, even the best of intentions can cause great harm.

FB- Sorry if you misinterpreted my comments. I agree with you that Karl Benz, Samuel Colt, et al. should bear no responsibility for any injury their inventions may have caused, since they had no malicious intent when they created the device. I would go even further and suggest that many of the massive financial penalties assessed to private companies in recent history (ExxonMobil, BP, Monsanto, etc.) for accidental damages that resulted from their products or operations, were not entirely justified. These companies were prosecuted simply because they had deep pockets.

As for Albert Speer, if it makes sense to hold him criminally responsible in part for the millions of unnecessary deaths caused by the German National Socialist government's policies, then why was there never any effort on the part of international organizations like the UN to prosecute Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong or the many architects and engineers working within their respective administrations for far worse genocidal actions?


In engineering I’m afraid that you never can chose to protect people and the environment at any cost. It would even be counterproductive to try. So you have to weigh advantages against disadvantages and an increased cost which means fewer will be able to afford the technology. A perfectly safe automobile for instance would be no good to anyone if people can’t afford to buy it. This compromise isn’t always successful; I’m sure that BP believed the BOP valve would have prevented a large oil leak, and TEPCO surely believed that their nuclear power plants had adequate tsunami protection. Clearly they were wrong, but as it’s said, hindsight is always 20/20.


#28 manolis

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 07:17

Easy to judge in the hindsight, however the damage has already been done.
Way more challenging, and useful, is to find ways to prevent bad things from happening.

With the transplants of human organs, millions of people live, and live better.
Great!
But there are criminals who kill children to sell their organs for transplants.
Terrible!
Well? What has to be done?
A way is to cancel the transplants, another way is to find the criminals and the doctors they cooperate, and punish them (by using their own organs for transplants, for instance).

When the Portable Flyer:

Posted Image

(at http://www.pattakon....pattakonFly.htm )
was, for the first time, shown to an old and wise friend, he said: but it fits to terrorist attacks.

Leave the technical details aside, and suppose – for a moment – that the Portable Flyer works, and is doing what is claimed, i.e. with equipment of 50 lib (23 Kp) secured at your back / shoulders – like a parachute – you can hover on the air and go from the point A to the point B (with AB being from a few meters to a few hundreds of Kilometers) quickly and fuel efficiently (like driving a motorcycle hovering in the air).

No doubt, it fits to humanitarian use, like:
First Aid / Ambulance (even with all roads blocked, a doctor lands - in a couple of minutes - in the place of an accident),
Rescue (to approach – though the air - people in danger in the sea and lift them),
Transportation (wherein the roads are not good, or not exist at all),
Fire fighting (a huge, but cheap and unmanned (i.e. consumable) Flyer carrying a few tons of water above the fire),
Etc.

No doubt, it also fits to non-humanitarian use, like:
War (soldiers can invade quickly and independently deep into the territory of the “enemy”)
Terrorism,
Criminal use,
Etc.

Questions:

How the engineer / owner of a new idea can strictly limit the use of his creation exclusively for the good? Suppose he has all the good will to do so.

How an engineer can eliminate his moral responsibility for the bad use of his invention?

Does the modern world provide the right tools / means / methods for this?

Has the engineer to withdraw everything he invents in the reasoning that everything can be used the wrong way?

Should the “inventor” of the wheel be accused for the bad use of his invention?

What I am saying is that everything new (not known, or not existing yesterday) is a gift (and a curse) to all the mankind.
The good use of his invention is a responsibility of the engineer, but it is also a responsibility of everybody else.

Thanks
Manolis Pattakos

#29 mrdave

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 13:11

I feel that engineers act towards the greater good. When faced with a problem they try to design a solution to solve that problem. In some cases there problem may be to stop another country invading theirs and they find a solution. In hind sight turning a section of japan into nucleur waste land or destroying a significant proportion of the ozone layer, may not have been ideal. However from this we have found safer refridgerent gases (by relising CFC's were not the solution), and also stopped a world war (or had it stopped already?! Another talking point...). I do feel that engineers make the best out of what they have available to them (Money, resources etc) and try to do it in the most safe and responsible way.

In the case of Albert Speer i feel started out with good intentions of being a great architect making grand buildings, however it seems to me as if he was in control of the design process, but not with the more mundane tasks like the labour that was used. Once the Nazi partys power had increased to massive war machine it became, I feel that Speer had no choice but to design the buildings he had (concentration camps), or else he would of been killed. Faced with that moral choice of designing what he did or being killed, I begin to empathise (but not necessarily agree) with his moral dilema.

At the Nuremberg trials Speer testified that he had planned to kill Hitler in early 1945 by dropping a canister of poison gas into the bunker's air intake. (quote from wikipedia).


#30 Wolf

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 13:18

To be more precise- I don't think Speer designed any gas chambers, or something like that. IIRC, he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment because he was head of ministry of armaments and war production which liberally used slave labour for production.

#31 GrpB

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 17:24

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.

Risk mitigation of higher average velocity through other means does not absolve this moral issue. Mixing antidotes into poisoned, inherently risky products would not be acceptable in the food industry, but this is acceptable in the auto industry, a selling point even. Imagine seeing an ad on TV for meat that touts the improved anti bactierial additives alongside the meat's improved ability to prolong the life of e-coli bacteria at high temperature. It is a silly as a car TV ad that touts improved acceleration/top speed alongside better airbags/crash structure.

#32 Greg Locock

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 20:58

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.

Risk mitigation of higher average velocity through other means does not absolve this moral issue. Mixing antidotes into poisoned, inherently risky products would not be acceptable in the food industry, but this is acceptable in the auto industry, a selling point even. Imagine seeing an ad on TV for meat that touts the improved anti bactierial additives alongside the meat's improved ability to prolong the life of e-coli bacteria at high temperature. It is a silly as a car TV ad that touts improved acceleration/top speed alongside better airbags/crash structure.

So faster cars=Nazis. Pretty much terminates the conversation.

#33 carlt

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 22:37

So faster cars=Nazis. Pretty much terminates the conversation.

brings us neatly to the moral implications of 'driverless cars'
- or is that a different thread ?

#34 Kalmake

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:22

How about "driverless" soldiers?

#35 275 GTB-4

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 08:19

How about "driverless" soldiers?


or ...

http://en.wikipedia....dier_(1992_film)

or..

http://en.wikipedia...._Troopers_(film)

#36 mrdave

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 09:42

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.


But engineers do produce the safest vehicle that they possibly can with the budget available to them. The budget unfortunatly is set by corporations based upon the cost of the resources and what they feel that the end user will pay for the product. All modern vehicles have ABS, airbags, Crumple zones etc, however certain features like ESP would push the cost of the vehicles up and up. How many of you when buying a new car, look at the options list and add on safety features like ESP?

#37 Greg Locock

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 21:54

But engineers do produce the safest vehicle that they possibly can with the budget available to them.

No, as an example, the dry grip of the tires (and hence braking distance) is compromised in order to get better fuel economy. The safety of the car is part of the tradeoff analysis, as another example, if you increased the mass of the front end structure and doors by 50 kg you could get a perceptible improvement in crash. The way targets are set for a mass production car is rather gruesome and airy fairy, to be honest it was a lot better when it was just the opinion of the chief engineer. The most sensible approach to target setting i ever saw was at BL, where they said, we're going to build a car that is demonstrably better than the Audi xxx for y thousand pounds less. So all we had to do was produce a bigger lighter faster quieter safer better handling car for less money. That is surprisingly good as a way of setting targets because the basic tradeoffs have already been done for you. I've been in one program since that used just one target car, and it worked very well.

The budget unfortunatly is set by corporations based upon the cost of the resources and what they feel that the end user will pay for the product. All modern vehicles have ABS, airbags, Crumple zones etc, however certain features like ESP would push the cost of the vehicles up and up. How many of you when buying a new car, look at the options list and add on safety features like ESP?


ESP, or at least ESC, is or will be compulsory in some places real soon now. There's a bit of argey bargey going on about what qualifies as ESC, I don't think anybody has really got to the point of defining enough tests to say that it can be characterised.

People will actually pay more for a 'safe' car, if they are reasonably well off. That is why everyone is chasing 4 or 5 star crash, if you don't have that then a large segment of customers won't buy the car.

Edited by Greg Locock, 20 November 2012 - 21:56.


#38 bigleagueslider

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 02:33

In engineering I’m afraid that you never can chose to protect people and the environment at any cost. It would even be counterproductive to try. So you have to weigh advantages against disadvantages and an increased cost which means fewer will be able to afford the technology. A perfectly safe automobile for instance would be no good to anyone if people can’t afford to buy it. This compromise isn’t always successful...........


J.Edlund- That's a very relevant point. The trade-off decisions between cost and safety are not really made by engineers, they're made by politicians or corporate managers & bean counters. Those of us living in a (mostly) free society thankfully still have the right to choose which products suit our needs. If automotive crash safety is a significant concern, we are free to purchase whatever vehicle we feel will provide adequate levels of safety. And in a free market, if enough consumers demand safer cars and are willing to pay a premium for this higher level of safety, manufacturers are usually more than happy to develop safer products to meet this demand.

Of course, the example given in the OP of Herr Speer's moral culpability in choosing to use his talents in service to his country's democratically elected government, I think it would be hard to condemn him unless there were clear evidence that he endorsed the genocidal policies of the German National Socialists. Ideally, all individuals should make moral decisions, regardless of the personal ramifications. But we should also hold those individuals in positions of authority, such as government officials, to much higher standards of responsibility. Why did brutal East German dictator Egon Krenz only serve 4 years in prison, while Speer served 20 years?


#39 Lee Nicolle

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 08:32

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.

Risk mitigation of higher average velocity through other means does not absolve this moral issue. Mixing antidotes into poisoned, inherently risky products would not be acceptable in the food industry, but this is acceptable in the auto industry, a selling point even. Imagine seeing an ad on TV for meat that touts the improved anti bactierial additives alongside the meat's improved ability to prolong the life of e-coli bacteria at high temperature. It is a silly as a car TV ad that touts improved acceleration/top speed alongside better airbags/crash structure.

That quote sounds like some road safety campaigner. I suspect it is very untrue, children die of diseases, children die in accidents playing [sometimes getting hit by a car doing so]
And engineers are not responsible for vehicle accidents where the driver was at fault, the broken potholed road caused the accident or a tree fell on the car in a storm. Etc etc etc. Accidents will always happen, a nanny state just makes them worse. Any claim other is going back to a red flag in your 5 ton padded cell.

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#40 J. Edlund

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 16:00

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.

Risk mitigation of higher average velocity through other means does not absolve this moral issue. Mixing antidotes into poisoned, inherently risky products would not be acceptable in the food industry, but this is acceptable in the auto industry, a selling point even. Imagine seeing an ad on TV for meat that touts the improved anti bactierial additives alongside the meat's improved ability to prolong the life of e-coli bacteria at high temperature. It is a silly as a car TV ad that touts improved acceleration/top speed alongside better airbags/crash structure.


If the risk of fatality really increased with velocity most fatal car accidents would occur on high speed freeways and hardly none in cities where speeds are lower. Travel by high speed train or airplane would also be accompanied with a much higher rate of fatality than travel by car. Since this clearly isn't the case, your basic assumption that fatality increase with velocity must be wrong. If you look into automobile, train and airplane accidents I think you will find a factor that is far more important than velocity. That factor is the total number of conflicts involved when traveling, and each of those conflicts must be successfully handled to avoid an accident. That's why high speed trains and airplanes are safer than automobiles, and it is also why a large number of fatal car accidents occur in cities at low speed. In a city there is a large number of conflicts between cars coming from different directions, traveling at different speeds, pedestrians crossing the streets and so on.

J.Edlund- That's a very relevant point. The trade-off decisions between cost and safety are not really made by engineers, they're made by politicians or corporate managers & bean counters. Those of us living in a (mostly) free society thankfully still have the right to choose which products suit our needs. If automotive crash safety is a significant concern, we are free to purchase whatever vehicle we feel will provide adequate levels of safety. And in a free market, if enough consumers demand safer cars and are willing to pay a premium for this higher level of safety, manufacturers are usually more than happy to develop safer products to meet this demand.

Of course, the example given in the OP of Herr Speer's moral culpability in choosing to use his talents in service to his country's democratically elected government, I think it would be hard to condemn him unless there were clear evidence that he endorsed the genocidal policies of the German National Socialists. Ideally, all individuals should make moral decisions, regardless of the personal ramifications. But we should also hold those individuals in positions of authority, such as government officials, to much higher standards of responsibility. Why did brutal East German dictator Egon Krenz only serve 4 years in prison, while Speer served 20 years?


Obviously engineers aren't the only ones involved in making trade-off decisions between costs and safety, but these decisions are often based on the knowledge provided by engineers and medical researchers.

I agree that in a free market consumers can chose products that offer the safety they feel is required. But the people being put in risk isn't necessarily the ones paying the costs, and that can have a significant impact on the choices people make as consumers. For instance, it is the people that are living near a power plant that suffer most from its emissions but the people paying for the electricity produced by the plant can live very far away from the plant. So the people paying for the electricity aren't necessarily prepared to pay extra to save the life of someone living near the plant. A risk of something can also be shared among many people, emissions from cars being one example. While all people suffer from the emissions they emit, my choice of car will do little for my part of the risk. So if all my neighbors buy low emission cars I will benefit, but they will cover the cost. If I then chose a cheaper car with higher emissions I will still get the benefit of the neighbors low emission cars and the benefit of a cheaper car. For me the downsides of my cars higher emissions are marginal. That's why some market regulation is necessary.

#41 scooperman

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 00:50

I remember getting my copy of Eschbach's "Handbook of Engineering Fundamentals". In the front there was a periodic table, then a couple of pages later there was the Canon of Ethics of Engineers, covered two pages. I actually read it, and was impressed. Wow, engineers must be ethical... I wonder when our teachers will get around to this subject, and which class will cover this. As it turned out, it wasn't part of the curriculum.

#42 Wolf

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 11:31

Scooperman, suffice to say that in later editions it was dropped from the book...

#43 RDV

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 08:24

Public perception seems to match forum poll =
Posted Image

Posted Image

...meanwhile one repeats, ethics are not part of schooling, but a well rounded education should instill logic and ethics automatically...



#44 Greg Locock

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 21:49

...meanwhile one repeats, ethics are not part of schooling, but a well rounded education should instill logic and ethics automatically...

Yet engineers and lawyers have roughly the same education...

#45 malbear

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 19:52

Yet engineers and lawyers have roughly the same education...

during my first(and only) federal court case our lawyers played a straight bat but also made sure that the judge read all the dirt. the opposition barrister QC really was dangerously not straight. the questions he asked no matter how you answered could be twisted to his own meaning so I answered mostly " that is your own opinnion" lawyers have to have no morrals or ethics to do their job as they have to pretend to not see the truth , that is the judges job. I always get on well with the engineers in various companies ,it is always the accountant or manager or lawyer
that is the fly in the ointment.

#46 flatlander48

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 00:25

As of August 2012, I've been a mechanical engineer for 40 years. I would have a lot of personal difficulty if something that I designed had been used for massively destructive purposes unless it related to a war effort. But, even then, it wouldn't feel right.

#47 Dmitriy_Guller

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:53

If the risk of fatality really increased with velocity most fatal car accidents would occur on high speed freeways and hardly none in cities where speeds are lower. Travel by high speed train or airplane would also be accompanied with a much higher rate of fatality than travel by car. Since this clearly isn't the case, your basic assumption that fatality increase with velocity must be wrong.

You're deliberately conflating different variables, and thus wrongfully rejecting the "basic assumption" (which isn't really just an assumption). Any one variable's impact must be evaluated by keeping the other variables constant. All else being equal, higher speed leads to higher fatalities, and in a very non-linear way. Traveling faster on a freeway with little traffic will increase your chance of death. Yes, other variables come in play, but they always do, which is why intelligent analysis has to eliminate their influence.

#48 GSpeedR

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 15:29

Yes, legions of engineers discount the moral aspect of their work output every day. Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for children in the United States and risk of fatality increases with velocity. Most functional engineers' basic goal is to increase average vehicle velocity through increased acceleration, increased cornering, increased terminal velocity. Increasing acceleration and high velocity capability equate to saleability and profit and necessarily increase risk of fatality. Therefore, a huge number of engineers consciously enable saleability and profitability at the expense of an increased risk of fatality as a result of their engineering efforts.

Risk mitigation of higher average velocity through other means does not absolve this moral issue. Mixing antidotes into poisoned, inherently risky products would not be acceptable in the food industry, but this is acceptable in the auto industry, a selling point even. Imagine seeing an ad on TV for meat that touts the improved anti bactierial additives alongside the meat's improved ability to prolong the life of e-coli bacteria at high temperature. It is a silly as a car TV ad that touts improved acceleration/top speed alongside better airbags/crash structure.


Automotive engineers' basic goal is not to increase average vehicle velocities, it is to develop a vehicle that meets the desires of the public and will sell. The public desires both increased performance and increased safety. The meat analogy is also invalid because it negates operational control. You cannot eat meat without also consuming the poisonous compounds. However, you can operate a sports car without speeding; you have control over its average velocities.