Ethics For Engineering – How It Impacts The Profession

Dec 22, 2020 by

Social Engineering Code of Ethics - Security Through Education

Imagine you are designing an automated car that can drive itself; without any human being operating it. And now imagine a scenario where your designed automobile has to save its passenger from a head-on collision with a tree by running over a child. Whose life would you value most, the child or the passenger? What would be the most logical as well as a humane decision that artificial intelligence can make? An average human of flesh and blood only has to face this dilemma once or twice in his lifetime. Still, if you replicate this program for all the cars in production, your algorithm has repeatedly faced this dilemma. To untangle this type of ethical conflict, engineers need to have a profound understanding of ethics.

To many of us, engineering might be the profession of creation, building things, and providing solutions to complicated problems. However, a moral and ethical obligation is undeniably part of this profession, especially in this data-driven world. Many of the engineers are appointed by governments and big corporations to provide security and collect data. Let’s get some more in-depth insight into how ethics can impact engineering.

What Is Engineering Ethics?

Engineering ethics is the set of moral principles for engineering practice. As engineers provide solutions to make our lives easier, they need to decide on ethical standpoints as these decisions impact our lives. Although ethics reflects the moral belief of an individual, when that individual gains significant power over others, it becomes mandatory to abide by some collectively agreed ethical standard.

But drawing the line between morality and immorality, between right and wrong, is not as simple as it sounds. As our society evolves into a more complex one, these lines become vague. Hence engineering has a deep connection with philosophy and ethics.

How Was Ethics Introduced in Engineering?

The very beginning of the engineering profession can be tied back to the invention of war crafts and weapons for military warfare. As a profession that was greatly associated with destruction rather than creation since its birth, this profession’s moral integrity was put to the test from time to time. It was not until the 18th century when this hushed concern grew louder, after some massive collapse of structures and bridges and loss of lives.

This ultimately led to setting up moral, ethical, and professional guidelines for different engineering practices. Considering the impact engineering can have on peoples’ lives, engineering ethics is an obligatory practice for every engineer.

Impact of Ethics in Engineering

Even if engineering is strictly a logic-driven discipline, there is always room for ethical consideration. Ethics can have varying degrees of impact in different fields of engineering. However, with the advancement of technology, it is challenging to mull over the ethical consequence before putting it into practice. Here we have explored some of the key areas in engineering that need an ethical approach.

Government Surveillance

The matter of Edward Snowden and government surveillance is still fresh in our minds. It is a perfect example of the ethical conflict between surveillance and citizen’s data privacy. It was not until 2013, when Snowden unveiled the significant data privacy violation of government, that people came to know the extent of government surveillance over their life.

It was surprising that many data engineers were involved in the process but didn’t raise any voice against the ethical validation of the process. This incident speaks volumes of how ethical obligation (or lack thereof) can dictate our lives. Without ethical obligation guiding and engineers consciousness, governments or other powerful institutions can easily sway them to violate our privacy.

Artificial Intelligence

Engineering ethics has a varied influence on artificial intelligence. To develop an algorithm that goes beyond human limitations, maintaining ethical integrity is highly complicated. The myriad of the opportunity presented by artificial intelligence in different sectors only intensifies the need to establish a proper criterion for artificial intelligence engineering.

To comply with ethical integrity, the engineer behind the AI needs to be scrupulous and unbiased. Otherwise, we will end up with a robot or facial recognition program biased with racism when catching criminals.

Data Protection

There has been a prolonged debate about data protection and ethical approach to engineering. When data is the primary source of profit for big corporations like Google, Facebook, or Amazon, we need to rethink to what extent we are willing to sacrifice our privacy in the name of convenience. Data engineers are often faced with the dilemma between moral obligation and violating data for more profit.

If they are unaware of their power over people’s privacy, they can be easily manipulated to violate them. Higher authorities in power can dictate them to adopt an unethical approach to gain profit, or worse, use data for an immoral purpose. Engineers with ethical obligations ingrained in them can raise voices against such unlawful practice and make people aware of such heinous acts.

Safety of People

Engineering projects entirely deals with people’s safety. Safety is a crucial ethical consideration in engineering, especially in building infrastructure. If the standard of the design or construction of a structure is compromised, it can lead to hazards and loss of life. The ethical obligation to people’s safety can propel engineers to strive for excellence in their practice. There is no alternative to adhering to engineering ethics to protect public health, property, safety, and welfare.

On a final note, engineering ethics bring forth the age-old debate –“science for good or evil?” No matter how far we go with artificial intelligence or other inventions, human beings will always have the power to dictate how a pattern or system works. If the person controlling the system stays firm in their ethical stand, pushing back against the immoral intentions of authorities in power, it becomes easier for them. For that reason, engineers need to grasp the influence of ethics and philosophy in their profession.

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