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Dr. R.

Gowri Sankara Rao


Professor and Head of the Dept.
Dept. Of EEE
MVGR College of Engineering,
Vizianagaram
Eeehod.mvgr@gmail.com

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The ethics of social experimentation
Conscientiousness:
Respect for stakeholders rights:
reasonable safety & informed consent
Skill & expertise:
Predicting outcomes & identifying risks
Designing to maximise net benefits
Protecting the rights of the disadvantaged
Comprehensive perspective:
Recruit expertise in other disciplines as
required
Utilise disinterested decision makers or
advisers
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Introduction
Objective:
Relate ethical theories to engineering
practice
A useful perspective:
View engineering activities as social
experiments:
Engineers create experimental situations
through innovation
Society participates in these experiments as
subjects
Uncertainty about outcomes implies risk:
Important to identify & quantify risks where possible
Decision makers may make biased decisions
unless accountable for (uncertain) outcomes
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Engineering as Social Experimentation
Ethical issues for engineers as
experimenters:
Duties to experimental subjects
Rights of experimental subjects
Assessment of costs & benefits of the
experiment
Relationship between experimenter &
subject:
Legal framework:
Legal obligations on experimenter, but these
may not address innovative situations
Codes of ethics:
Primary responsibility lies with the experimenter
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Framing the Problem
Concept
Engineering:
Design
Produce
Install
Operate
Intended outcomes:
User satisfaction
Company profits
Unintended outcomes
Corporate
context:
Time pressure
Cost pressure
Secrecy
External context:
Uncertainty
Legal framework
Social impacts
Environmental impacts
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Examples
Computers:
Developed & adopted over about three decades
Significant impacts on society:
Not well understood or nor always predicted, e.g:
The Y2K bug
However largely accepted as a positive technology
Nuclear power stations
Developed & adopted over about three decades
Significant impacts on society:
Not well understood nor always predicted, eg.
Chernobyl
Widespread concern & installed capacity in decline
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Determining the Facts Codes of Ethics
Legal framework sets the outer boundary
Justice:- punishment, restitution, structural
change:
Designed to protect equity
Industry codes reflect corporate interests:
Often to mollify unfavourable public
opinion, eg:
Real estate, insurance sales, banking
At their best, professional codes reflect the
public interest:
Can provide a check-list when considering
an engineering experiment
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Positive roles of codes of ethics
Inspiration & guidance for professionals:
Sustain an ethical standard in the
profession
Practical support for ethical actions:
Reduce the risks of victimisation
Education & mutual understanding (trust):
Between the profession & the public
Maintain public image (avoid regulation)
Deterrence & discipline (paralegal
proceedings):
To investigate & rule on alleged unethical
activities
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Limitations of codes of ethics
Protect the status quo (ethical
conventionalism):
Codes (like laws) tend to lag behind
innovation
Restrict and/or stifle dissent
Protect the profession from competition:
Now illegal under the Trade Practices Act
Internal contradictions between tenets of a
code:
A common problem with professional codes
Generality or vagueness of wording:
Cannot be drafted with a particular situation
in mind
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Example: the IEEE code of ethics
(www.ieee.org)
1. To accept responsibility in making engineering
decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare
of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that
might endanger the public or the environment
2. To avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever
possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when
they do exist
3. To be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates
based on available data
4. To reject bribery in all its forms
5. To improve the understanding of technology, its
appropriate application, and potential consequences
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The IEEE code of ethics continued
6. To maintain & improve our technical competence and to
undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified
by training or experience, or after full disclosure of
pertinent limitations
7. To seek, accept and offer honest criticism of technical
work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit
properly the contributions of others
8. To treat fairly all persons regardless of such factors as
race, religion, gender, disability, age or national origin
9. To avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or
employment by false or malicious action
10 To assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional
development and to support them in following this code
of ethics
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Clarifying concepts
Subjects:
Individual consumers, groups or society as a
whole:
Those who can make informed choices, and
Those requiring advocates:
Disadvantaged, future generations, other species & the
environment
Impacts:
Health, safety & the environment
Changes to social structure & social status:
Income & wealth distribution
Lifestyles & personal empowerment
Education, culture
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Features of engineering experiments
Absence of a control group ( equivalent non-
participants):
Products & services usually offered to all
Benefits may such that they cant be
withheld from a particular group
Society may have little prior understanding:
Innovative products & services
Uncertainty in future impacts (positive or
negative)
Informed judgements are difficult to make:
For both experimenter and subject
ELEC4011 - Lecture5: Eng'g as social
experimentation
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Informed consent
Stakeholders:
Experimental subjects, experimenters,
others who can affect the outcome, or may
be affected by it
Stakeholders have a right to informed
consent:
A voluntary & conscious decision made on
the basis of all relevant information
Issues:
Identification of stakeholders (present &
future)
Adequacy of information
Decision making opportunity & capability
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Issues for informed consent
Voluntary participation not always possible, eg:
Technology that has widespread effects on the
public:
For example, the Y2K bug
Future generations or citizens of other countries
Stakeholders may be hard to identify, eg:
Those affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident
Proxy group can represent unknown stakeholders:
Adequate diversity & information
Adequate decision making competence
Strongly differing opinions may hamper
consensus
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Common Ground
Objectives:
deter poor practice; encourage innovation
Balance between:
Individual & corporate rights versus public welfare
Heavy-handed regulation versus deregulation
Consensus outcomes versus adversarial litigation
Guidelines & standards versus innovation
The key legislation is the Trade Practices Act:
Goods must be fit for their intended purpose
THE END