slides - Personal Home Pages

What is ethics?
Professional codes of practice.
Some case studies.
Types of ethical issues
What is ethics?
“branch of philosophy dealing
with values relating to human
conduct, with respect to the
rightness and wrongness of
certain actions and to the
goodness and badness of the
motives and ends of such
List potential activities of an Electrical
Engineer that could potential cause harm to
Humans or the environment.
Professional engineers are expected to act
Surely it is OK to just act legally?
It's legal so we can do it.
Not always clear what is legal.
1928: the common law only acknowledged a duty
of care was owed to people harmed by the negligent
acts of others in specific and limited circumstances.
Woman (Donoghue) drinks ginger beer (Stevenson)
. . . finds slug in glass . . . is ill . . . . .
case of Donoghue v Stevenson . . . .
Leechman argued that Stevenson’s had a
"duty of care" even without a contract.
Four years later, in the Lords, he established
it as a principle of law when Lord Atkin ruled
everyone has a duty to:
"take reasonable care to avoid acts or
omissions which you can reasonably foresee
would be likely to injure your neighbour".
To be a professional engineer you are bound to
abide be these guidelines.
Codes of practice can not cover every situation.
But they do state that professional engineers should act ethically.
"Being a professional engineer means that the wider public
trust you to be competent and to adhere to certain ethical
standards. The trust you derive from being seen as a
professional is one of the advantages of being a member
of the IET, but it also means you have certain ethical
"Like most professional bodies, the IET has a number of
Rules of Conduct which set out the standards of behaviour
expected of its members. However, a list of rules will never
cover every situation that may arise, and there will always
be a role for individual judgement in deciding how to apply
these rules."
Doing the right thing.
Depends on the situation.
You need to be able to justify your actions
Discuss any potential issues that arise from the following examples.
Your company has decided to use the
"electricity to boost maths concept" in a
product (see hand-out). The proposal is a head
band that can be worn by pupils/students that
will provide the required electric current to
enhance maths learning. The marketing guys
are getting quite excited. An initial survey of
students and parents indicates that there is
potentially a large market.
Discuss any ethical issues
An official complaint has been filed to the US
Federal Trade Commission about a Facebook
experiment that manipulated the emotional state
of users.
The complaint was filed by digital rights group the
Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic)
Facebook collaborated with two US universities to see if
changing the emotional content of stories and updates sent
to users' Facebook profile pages had any effect on the
people that read them.
It found that it was possible to influence people and that
those who read fewer messages with negative emotional
content were less likely to write a similarly negative personal
update on their profile page.
You are working for a company which develops face
recognition software. A large supermarket chain has
approached you with a potentially lucrative project to
install video surveillance systems in all their
The proposed system will use security cameras to
track customers to see how they react to changes in
store layout, promotions etc. The face recognition
software will be coupled to the checkout system
which will use loyalty cards to identity customers.
This will allow them to maintain a database of
customer behaviour
Discuss any ethical issues associated with this project.
You are working for a company supplying
hardware/software for use on space missions. You are part
of a team designing a new piece of equipment. The new
design uses an (FPGA) programmable logic device. You have
heard that these devices can occasionally malfunction if
exposed to the levels of radiation experienced outside the
Earth's protective atmosphere. You discuss this problem with
your line manager but he just says that the chances of the
device failing is so small it is not worth worrying about it.
What should you do?
"How do you take advantage
of business opportunities whilst
making sure you are as honest
as possible with your
What action might you take to
make a "facilitation payment"
to win a contract?"
“To what extent should your own moral views about
war and warfare affect your professional judgement
as an engineer in the defence industry?”
“In what situations can a claim of "whistleblowing" justify
the disclosure of confidential information?”
“How do you know whether you, as an
engineer, are competent to make a particular
decision which might have important personal
consequences for people?”
Health and safety
“How can we justify any risk to human life? What is a reasonable risk?”
Information / privacy
Commercial pressure
Environment / sustainability
Health and safety
Information / privacy
Launched despite
temperature being to
low for O rings.
Pressure from
management on
engineers to give the
right “answer”
Break down in safety.
Procedures not followed
67 people killed
“For three years, Google’s street view cars roamed cities
worldwide photographing street scenes for use in creating
Google maps. While doing so, it also identified Wi-Fi hot spots.”
“According to Google, its engineers accidentally inserted the wrong
data-sniffing code while experimenting with the software and failed to
discover the error when they put the software into street view cars”
“Whether Google acted illegally or unethical remains debatable.
Without evidence of wrongful intent, however, Google’s collection of
Wi-Fi data remains only an embarrassing blunder.”
Professionals must act ethically.
Ethics is about doing the right thing.
Depends on the situation.
You need to think!