Engineering Ethics

Ethics is “knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do.” In a simpler language, engineering ethics is about what engineers are supposed to do and what they are doing.

Do engineers take pride in designing a thing and manufacturing it as they take pride in packaging it?

As Cicero said eons ago, “public safety must be pre-eminent in everything engineers do.” The industry wants real-world engineers equipped to deal with the complex interactions across many disciplines. The public expects confident engineers. Future engineers are expected to appreciate, more than before, the human dimensions of technology. They are expected to have a grasp on global issues.

Good engineering design should not be deprived of the benefits of a broad spectrum of life experiences as adequate familiarisation with societal demands is essential for practical technological literacy. From the age of “speed and power” in the twentieth century, we have entered the age of “biology and information”. We need “open innovation”; open innovators don’t confine themselves to inner means for solving problems. They go out to find solutions wherever that is available. The future engineers, thus, need to be better equipped to deal with people of diverse background, such as social science, management, and communications.

A new world is developing. A new mind is evolving to deal with this new world. In the world of engineering, technical skills are not enough to provide leadership. The engineers are expected to better bridge the gap between innovation and manufacturing. Future leaders, as Paul Jacobs says, must also learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams, how to iterate designs rapidly, how to manufacture sustainably, how to combine art and engineering, and how to address global markets.

Engineering ethics will continue to play a significant role. Its nature, however, will change. In the future of ethics, life sciences will play a significant role. As per the UNU’s Millennium Project, the issues pertaining to the future of ethics relevant to engineering and technology include: If technology grows a mind of its own, what ethical obligations do we have for its behaviour? Do we have the right to genetically change ourselves into a new or several new species? Is it right to allow the creation of future elites who have augmented themselves with artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, without inventing a way to manage their superhuman abilities?

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh