Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ethics and Engineering

Engineers have an important role in society. The decisions that they make affect everyone that interacts with the products that they design and put out. In engineering, like most professions there is, like most professions, a code of ethics. This code of ethics provides an important set of guidelines on how engineers should act. Along with that this some companies have their own code of ethic. This code provides guidelines about what all engineers hold as important conduct in the workplace.
 The first point in the National Society of Professional Engineers code of ethics talks about the importance of safety for the customer. This is important to make sure that the engineers puts the customer’s needs first not only in the product they want but in their health and safety. Engineers have a huge affect on the outcome of products and they are the ones who could affect what goes into a product and every aspect of how it is made. The second point that is emphasized by the fundamental canons is the importance of honesty and truth in the workplace. This implemented because if the engineer is not honest about his activities it could ultimately affect the well being of society. If cuts corners when they do work the trickle affects could cause affects that could ultimately harm the company that they work for. They also shouldn’t be revealing information that they know to other companies because it gives another company a competitive advantage and could drive the other company.
Why have this code if these are things that are inherently natural to people? Engineers should have the common sense to know the values about what is right and wrong. The fact of the matter is some situations may be difficult to decide on what an engineer should do. The code allows a base that engineers can follow. This lays out what is expected of engineers in terms of conduct. It seems to me that the code is important to know. Although it seems that the code talks about general inherent human traits some people may not see certain qualities the same way as most engineers. This guideline shows what is values by engineers overall an there importance not only in the company but on the customer as well. 

Quality in Confinement: An Ethical View

     I can't imagine a place where there would be a "purpose" to limit quality; that is, aside from prisons where people go to be punished rather than living the high life.  But does that mean that the quality perspective should be entirely overlooked?  I think not...

     It's no small decision to send someone to jail, for any time at all, let alone for life.  So it should also be no small decision as to what they can/should/or have to do once there.  Many questions and responses can be posed that shake the ethical foundations of the prison and confinement process.  One such question: How high-quality of a life do they deserve? Or not deserve? They are there to be punished after all, so what do they really deserve, and how would the system be changed? 

     Quality teachings suggest looking to the customer for the answer, but using this methodology in this scenario doesn't make sense, so what then?  If quality cannot be changed then what about time or productivity?  Again quality methods don't seem to make sense, the "only" option left to consider is finding a way to reduce the costs, and this is where the ethical boundaries can begin to be pushed...

     The high costs of the current prison system almost demands that something be done, but the ethical boundaries that wrap around the system slow progress.  I propose the use of the prisoners for greater purposes than menial things like stamping out license plates or picking up trash from the side of the road.  I propose changing the system to one that allows the inmates to grow and gain abilities and purpose.  Help them find something to drive them towards good, and in that way, maybe their quality of life can be improved as well as of those around the person.  From this, able bodied people would be able to be released from prison, potentially even early, and make an impact around them.  This would potentially have a great impact on the system as a whole, but that idealism wouldn't last long, there are going to be those that fight changing to the very end, and with those people, the opposite direction could be taken.  Their quality of life could be diminished and diminished until they reach a status little more than slaves; where free labor is all the value they hold, until maybe they find it in themselves to change. Until they find that it is better for them to come to the side of good where they can then not only find fulfillment in the world around them, but to also find a way to fulfill the world around them.  The ethical boundary that makes us shy away from this, but I’ll pose the question again; what kind of quality of life do they really deserve? I believe that this scenario allows the inmates to choose their direction, and would ultimately look to joining the side of good.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Morals, Ethics, and Problems

            There is a grey line between morals and ethics, one that most get mixed up.  Morals are personal.  They are from the way you are raised, the way others have influenced you.  They are your own code of conduct.  Ethics are a set of accepted guidelines for a culture.  That is, culture of a certain career.  Most careers, especially in the engineering world, have their own professional code of ethics.  Ethics are not laws and they do not require some police force to enforce them.  They mean, almost in a vigilante sense, to hold professional peers to the standard.  They can be thought of as heuristics, as they are general guidelines, or hand rails, but will not solve the complete problem for you.
            In dealing with real world problems, those heuristics can be the best approach to start.  However, when ethics takes you as far as it can, you have to rely on your own morals to solve the problem.  They have been with you all your life, and will assist you in weighing options and making the final decision.


Modern American Ethics and Technology

Modern American Ethics and Technology

Ethics is an interesting subject in today’s fast paced world, especially here in America. Ethics is defined as moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. The people that teach us ethics are normally the people we look up to and idolize. The people that kids idolize are the rap artists, movie stars, sport figures, and politicians. Quite possibly the most unethical group of people America has to offer. Rap artist’s lyrics are nothing short of talking about weed, loose women, and killing people. Movie stars, such as Lindsay Lohan, are in jail for illegal activity and are slapped on the wrist. Sport figures, such as Kobie Byrant and Michael Jordan, are idolized and protected even though they have raped and cheated on women.  And Politicians are supposed to represent us, yet most of them have multiple ethic complaints filed against them currently.

What does this tell you about America? America is not based on ethics. Greed drives America still and forever. Music Labels, Movie Company’s, NBA, NFL, and the media put up with unethical behaviors because of greed. Their company represents these people simply because they make them money. Censorship and moral teachings need to come from the parents not what the media and other outlets such as MTV have to offer.

Unfortunately, politics has become a career profession. I find it hard to believe that conducting government work without learning business ethics in a business environment will lead politicians to be ethical. The house of representative has a committee simply for ethics. The House Ethics Committee is there to investigate representatives for stealing money from campaign funds and other ethical charges that may be filed against them.

I ask myself why do we as a nation have such bad etiquette when it comes to ethics. Technology is the reason. Before cell phones, and the internet people were forced to communicate with each other with their mouths. Now everyone is in front of their smart phone or tablet computer and people are slowly growing apart from each other. It is weird to think that internet websites such as myspace and facebook are actually doing the opposite from what they were designed to do. When you put technology in between human interaction it allows people to be more unethical because people are saying mean things or hacking people’s identities from their living room. Also due to the internet people are exposed to more news about movie stars and sport figures getting in trouble. When they see their idol doing such things they think it is okay for them to do the same.


Ethical Decision Making

Engineers design products for the general public, to make life better for everyone.  With engineers designing products that everyone has the ability to go out and purchase for themselves, comes a lot responsibility.  If the product we’re designing is a car than we need to make sure it’s safe before putting it on the market.  The car is a remarkable machine but it can also take human life if not used properly.  Engineers need to keep that in mind when we design our new products, whatever they may be.  Ethics are about being a good person and using our own moral values to make the right decisions.  Engineers are the people who design things for the world; if we are unethical in our decision making it can cause catastrophic events.  Back to the topic of automobiles, the infamous Ford Pinto case is an excellent example of a case where the ethical decision wasn’t made and it cost innocent humans to lose their life.  The Ford Pinto was one of the more popular cars when it first came on the market, what people didn’t know was that it was a death trap.  The engineers who designed the car put the fuel tank towards the rear of the car thinking it would not be a safety threat.  They began manufacturing the Pinto cars but they didn’t realize that the gas tank was a serious issue until after they had shipped their product out to be sold.  They discovered the issue with the gas tank in the back of the car; if the car was rear ended the car would ignite and explode.  Recalling all of those cars and fixing them would have cost Ford a fortune and they decided that paying out some lawsuits would be less than if they recalled the car.  The inevitable eventually happened, there were a group of teenagers driving their Ford Pinto on a highway and got rear ended.  Upon impact the gas tank caused the car to catch fire and explode burning everyone in the car alive.  Young lives were lost because the people responsible for making the car decided that money was more important than the safety of their customers.  Ford let their valued customers drive off in a death trap they designed and knew had a serious defect, all to save the company money.  This is considered one of the biggest unethical engineering decisions in history.  The story of the Pinto shows that as engineers we take on a responsibility to make sure we design things with the safety of the user in mind and if we fail to do that the consequences can be the loss of human life.  Ethics is about not looking out just for yourself but being concerned with your decisions and how they affect others around you.  You can’t put a price on human life.  No amount of money can bring a parent dead child back.  Human life and safety needs to be the most important part of any engineering design, cost comes second.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Help with Making Ethical Decisions

Ethical decisions can be very difficult to make at times. To aid in ethical decision making, there are tips called heuristics to guide the way one proceeds with a  decision or design. Heuristics can be interpreted in different ways for different situations, but can be very useful in saving time. It is important to note that heuristics are not the solution to the problem.  Heuristics can be found in two different circumstances: optimization and procedural. Optimization heuristics analyze two or more terms that need to be balanced against each other to find the maximal result. Procedure heuristics are for the beginner to know how to handle oneself or practice to get better end results. Along with heuristics, there are codes of ethics. For engineering, there is a general code of ethics for all engineers and there is a code of ethics for each discipline of engineering. These codes are upheld by the National Society of Professional Engineers and are used by the Board of Ethical Review to resolve ethical issues.
          Even with all the heuristics and codes, I believe that making an ethical decision comes down to an individual's morals and values. I think that it is important for engineers to understand  they have a direct impact on the consumers that come into contact with their products, take their work seriously, analyze their morals and values, and use the various heuristics and codes available to them to aid in make ethical decisions.