The Future Holds Ethical Dilemmas for Engineers

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by Alex A. Kecskes

In this technologically complex world, engineers are increasingly faced with ethical dilemmas. The Gulf Oil spill, the Challenger disaster, and a whole slew of automotive safety design problems point to the need for ethical oversight among today's designers and engineers.

Today, engineers are faced with such controversial future challenges as human cloning, and where to draw the line in terms of product safety vs. cost. With today's advanced computer-assisted design tools, engineers can construct buildings with the thinnest, least expensive materials, reducing margins of error. In vehicle design, engineers can perform cost-benefit analyses that weigh the cost of strengthening a car's roof vs. the number of deaths and injuries such a roof might cause in a rollover.

Like law and medicine, engineering uses highly specialized knowledge, self-regulation, and a moral responsibility to the public. Engineers use their training and abilities to develop products and procedures that help people live better lives. In return, society expects engineers to oversee and regulate themselves. All the more reason engineering education and professional practices must take into account the ethical dimensions of engineering.

Fortunately, most companies and professional societies have drafted codes of ethics, which their members are expected to follow. The ASME codes Policy 15-7, for example are based on several fundamental principles, which provide guidance to professional engineers in situations most engineers face today. That said, there still remain many "gray areas" that can challenge engineers as they struggle to work in an ethical and moral fashion.

For another perspective, check out this video skit on personal ethics:

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients. Please see more of his blogs and view additional job postings on Nexxt.

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