Ethics and Values in Engineering Profession: Contemporary Issues

By Yash Bansal|Updated : May 6th, 2021

















  1. Introduction:

We live in an age when technical and political changes have been taking place more rapidly than at any time in the past. The scale and range of societies, the size of projects undertaken, by them — projects concerned with education, health care, government, public works, and many other areas of common concern — have greatly increased over those undertaken in previous centuries. Perhaps the rate of change is even more significant than the scale of change. In addition to the scale and rate of change and the changes in population distribution, we have to recognize the nature of the change. Technological developments have placed vastly increased sources of power under the direction of making and have very much enhanced the speed with which we can communicate with one another. Within decades the time taken to communicate with some parts of the world has been reduced from months to seconds.

Common Ethical issues are-

  1. Cross-Cultural Issues:

World communities are must more interdependent. Differing views as to the nature of the 'good and of the right' have a real impact on peace and prosperity. The decisions of a single powerful individual can affect the lives of many millions of others for better or for worse. The issues arising from this globalization are complex. They require an in-depth study of the value systems and the physical. economic. political and cultural parameters of all the individuals and communities involved. This requires a cross-cultural ethical audit of Knuth's more strategic nature than the audit of a particular project.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the engineering profession is the enabling of activities that improve the quality of the lives of others, without diminishing the rich variety of human experience and fulfillment. The need to identify the factors that may become conflicts of interest within traditional value systems is an ethical responsibility of the professional. Preventing conflicts prove valuable in reducing delays, in accommodating changes in design and construction practice, and in ensuring collaborative working between people of-differing cultural and experiential backgrounds But being transnational, it is likely to lie beyond the reach of national laws and professional codes, individual self-regulation is again of prime importance. -Responding to ethical dilemmas in the engineering context cannot always be straightforward, not least because life itself is rarely so. Hence, handling such dilemmas requires:

  • Ethical thinking enables the professional to understand the data, values, and consequences of the case.
  • Careful attention of methods so that the dilemmas is not turned into a crusade --social and self-awareness and the development of a professional value system.
  • Awareness and development of codes of ethics, in particular companies, or on a particular project, so that ethical discussions are open and evident.
  • Awareness and development of interdisciplinary codes and cross-cultural factors.

Because no simple rules will deal with all ethical problems, the exercises of responsibility become central. This involves establishing the responsibilities to the several parties concerned, which requires negotiation, to ensure that the professional does not take on too much responsibility. The professional must, however, take responsibility for ethical dilemmas and work through the ethical decision-making process, avoiding any denial of responsibility. Such responsibilities cannot be confined to particular roles. The responsibilities of the engineer and the engineering profession include those to society in general.

2.ii. Public Safety:

  • The engineer has an obligation to the employer but also to protect society. Sometimes he or she may be forced to neglect the safety checks to meet the production targets.
  • Ex- Galaxy Note 7 launched to be in direct competition with the iPhone 7 and Pixel. However, batteries started exploding and devices caught fire while charging.

2.iii. Environmental Issues:

One of the most important political issues of the late 20th century has been environmental protection and the rise of the environmental movement. This movement has sought to control the introduction of toxic and unnatural substances into the environment, to protect the integrity of the biosphere, and to ensure a healthy environment for humans. Engineers are responsible in part for the creation of the technology that has to lead to damage to the environment and is also working to find solutions to the problems caused by modern technology. The environmental movement has led to increased awareness among engineers that they have a responsibility to use their knowledge and skills to help protect the environment. As concern about the environment has grown, ethicists have turned their attention to the ethical dimensions of environmentalism. In the late 1960s, an area of study called "environmental ethics" was formulated, seeking to explore the ethical roots of the environmental movement and to understand what ethics tells us about our responsibility to the environment.

One way to explore the environment's moral status is to try to answer some questions regarding place of humans in our environment Do we belong to nature, or does nature belong to us?
I animals can suffer and feel pain like humans, should they have standing? If animals have moral standing, how far does this moral standing then extend together like forms, such as trees? Clearly, these questions are not easily answered and not everyone will come to the same conclusion. However, there is a significant number of people who feel that the environment and specifically animals and plants, do have standing beyond their usefulness to humans. In one form, this view holds that humans are just one component of the environment and that all components have equal standing. For those who hold this view, it is the utmost duty of everyone to do what is required to maintain a healthy biosphere for its own sake.

Regardless of the goal (i.e., either protecting human health or protecting the overall health of the biosphere for its own sake); there are multiple approaches that can be taken to resolving environmental problems. The first approach is sometimes referred to as the environment is made as clean as possible. No level of environmental degradation is seen as acceptable. This approach bears a striking resemblance to rights and duty ethics. There are obvious problems with this approach. It is difficult to uphold, especially in modern urbanized society. It is very difficult to enforce since the definition of “as clean as possible” is hard to agree on a being oblivious to cost is not practical in any realistic situation, in which there are infinite resources to apply to a problem.

A second approach is based on cost-benefit analysis, which is derived from utilitarianism. Here, the problem is analyzed in terms of the benefits derived by reducing pollution. Improvements in human health, for example, and the costs required to solve the problem. The costs and benefits are weighed to determine the optimum combination. In this approach, the goal is not to achieve a Completely clean environment, but rather to achieve an economically beneficial balance of pollution with health or environmental considerations.

There are problems associated with the cost-benefit approach. First, there is an implicit assumption in a cost-benefit analysis that cost is an important issue_ But what is the true cost of human life or the loss of a species or a scenic view? These values are difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Second, it is difficult to accurately assess costs and benefits and much guesswork must go into these calculations. Third, this approach does not necessarily take into account whit shoulders of the costs and who gets the benefits.

The cheapest land is in economically disadvantaged areas, where people do not necessarily have the political clout, education, or money required to successively oppose a landfill in their neighborhood. Although dumps have to go somewhere, there should be some attempt to share the costs as well as share the benefits of an environmentally questionable project. Finally, the cost-benefit analysis does not necessarily take morality or ethics into account. The only considerations are costs and benefits, with no room for discussion as to whether what is being done is right or not.

Given the complexity of these issues, what then are the responsibilities of the engineer to the environment? When looking at the environmental aspects o this work, an engineer can appeal to both professional and personal ethics to make a decision. Of course, the minimal requirement is that the engineer must flow the applicable central, state and municipal laws and regulations.

Professional codes of ethics tell us to hold the safety of people and the environment to be of paramount importance. So, clearly, engineers have a responsibility to ensure that their work is conducted in the most environmentally safe manner possible. This is true certainly from the perspective of human health, but for those who feel that the environment has moral standing of its own, the responsibility to protect the environment is clear.

Often, this responsibility must be balanced somewhat by consideration of the economic well-being of our employer, our family, and our community.

2.iv. Computer-related Issues:

Computers have rapidly become a ubiquitous tool in engineering and business, There are ways in which computers have benefits to society. Unfortunately, there are also numerous ways in which computers have been misused, leading to serious ethical issues. The engineer's role as a designer. manager and user of computers bring with them a responsibility to help foster the ethical use of computers. Many ethical problems associated with computer use related to the unauthorized use of information stored on a computer database and are thus related to the issues of confidentiality and proprietary information. The ethical problem-solving techniques will be equally applicable to computer ethics issues.

Computers as the Instrument of Unethical Behaviour

Many uses are merely extensions to computers of other types of unethical acts. For example, computers can be used to more efficiently steal money from a bank. A more traditional bank-robbery method is to put on a mask, hand a note to a bank teller, show your gun, and walk away with some cash. Computers can be used to make bank robbery cashiers perform and hard to trace. The robber simply sits at a computer terminal, perhaps the modern equivalent of a mask invades the bank's computer system, and directs that some of the bank's assets be placed in a location accessible to him. Using .a computer, a criminal can also make it difficult for the theft to be detected and traced.

It is clear that from an ethical standpoint, there is no difference between a bank robbery perpetrated in person or one perpetrated via a computer, although generally the amounts are taken in a computer crime far exceed. Those taken in an armed robber. The difference between these two types of robbery is that the use of the computer makes the crime impersonal. The criminal never come face to face with the victim. In addition, the use of computer makes it easier to steal from a wide variety of people Computers can be used to steal from an employer, outsiders can get into a system and steal from an institution such as a bank, or a company can use the computer to steal from its clients and customers, in these cases, the computer has only made the left easier to perpetrate, but does not alter the ethical issues involved. Unfortunately, the technology to detect and prevent this type of crime greatly lags behind the computer technology available to commit it. Those seeking to limit computer crime are always playing a catch-up game.

Another instrumental area of computer ethics involves privacy._it is widely held that certain information is private and cannot be divulged without consent. This includes information about individuals as well as corporate information. Computers did not create the issues involved in privacy, but they certainly have exacerbated them. Computers make privacy more difficult to protect since large amounts of data on individuals and corporations are centrally stored on computers where an increasing number of individuals can access it. Before we look at the ways that privacy can be abused by the use of computers, We will discuss the issues surrounding privacy and see what the ethical standing or privacy is.

How do computers increase the problems with privacy protection? This phenomenon is most easily seen by looking at the old system of record keeping. For example, medical records of individuals were at one time kept only on paper and generally resided with the individual's physician and in hospitals where a patient had been treated. Access to those records by researchers, insurance companies, or healthcare institutions was a somewhat laborious process that involved searching through storage for the appropriate files, copying them, and sending them through the mail. Unauthorized use of this information involves breaking into the office where the files were kept and stealing them or, for those who hail access to the files, surreptitiously removing the files. Both these acts meant a substantial risk of being caught and prosecuted. In some hospitals, these records have now been computerized. Although computerization makes. the retrieval of files much easier for those with legitimate needs and reduces the space required to store the files, it also makes the unauthorized use of this information by others easier.

Computers as the Object of Unethical Acts

Ethical issues also arise when computers are the objects of an unethical act. This act is popularly referred to as hacking and has been widely reported in the newspapers and in popular culture, sometimes' with the "hacker being portrayed as heroic. Hacking comes in many forms: gaining unauthorized access to the database, implanting false information in a database or altering existing information, and disseminating viruses over the Internet, These activities are by no means limited to highly trained computer specialists. Many hackers are bored teenagers seeking a challenge. Computer hacking is clearly ethically troublesome, As mentioned before, accessing private information violates the privacy rights of individuals or corporations even if the hacker keeps this information to himself. In extreme c asps, hackers have accessed secret military information, which has obvious implications for national security. Altering information in a database, even information about yourself, is also ethically wrong.

The issuance of computer viruses is also unethical These viruses frequently destroy data stored on computer. In extreme cases, this act could lead to deaths when hospital records or equipment are compromised to financial run for individuals whose records are wiped out or even to the loss of million of dollars for corporations, individuals, and taxpayers_ as completed work must be redone after being destroyed by a virus. hackers are not being malicious, but are simply trying to ''push the envelope' and see what they and their computers are capable of Nevertheless having is an unethical use of computers

2.v. Weapons Development

  • One of the largest employers of engineers worldwide is the defence industries This is by no means a modern trend; throughout history, many innovations in engineering anti

science have come about as a result of the development of weapons. Since weapons are designed basically for one purpose - to kill human beings - it is important to loop.: this type of engineering work in the context of engineering ethics and the rights of engineers. An engineer may choose either to work or not to work in defence-related industries and be ethically justified in either position. Many reasonable wigineeri-i3 professionals feel that, ethically, they cannot work on designs that will ultimately be used to kill other humans. their remoteness from the killing site does not change this feeling. Even though they will not push the button, trigger the gun outlay never actually see tip:. victims of the weapon. they still find it morally unacceptable to work on suet- systems.

On the other hand, equally morally responsible engineers find this type of mirk ethically acceptable. They reason that the defence of our nation or other nations from aggression is a legitimate function of our government and is an honourable goal of engineers to contribute-to-Both these positions can be justified by reference to the moral theories and problem-solving techniques. Even if an engineer finds defence work ethically acceptable, there might be uses of these weapons or certain projects that he consider questionable. For example, is it acceptable-to .Work on Weapons systems that willy be sold to other nations, particularly to those engaged in conflicts? Is the use of weapons to guarantee our "national interests: such as maintaining a steady supply of foreign oil, and acceptable defence project?

Given the issues that surround defence work, what is an engineer to do when asked to work on a weapons project he considers questionable? As with many of the ethical dilemmas, there is no simple solution, but rather the answers must be determined by each individual after examination of his values and personal feelings about the ethics of defence work It is important to avoid working on any project that you deem unethical, even if it might lead to a career advancement, or even if it is a temporary job. This principle also holds true for projects that you feel are unsafe, dangerous for the environment, etc. It can be argued that weapons work is the most important type of engineering, given its consequences for mankind. Because of the implications to human life, this type of engineering requires an even more stringent examination of ethical issues to ensure responsible participation.

 Intellectual Property Rights (IPRS)

Intellectual Property is a class of property, primarily from the activities of the human intellect. Any property, movable or immovable, is legally protected to prevent it from being stolen. Similarly, the rights in an intellectual property created need also to be protected to prevent infringement Examples: Patents. Design trade marks and copy rights. The legal rights accured on the intellectual property created are termed (intellectual property rights IPR). These rights are governed by the law on IPR of the country which grants such rights. There are various forms of IPR. The Trade Related Aspects of IPR popularly known as TRIPS, in the Agreement of the World Trades Organization (WTO), recognize seven forms of IPR, namely, patents, design, trade marks, copyrights, geographical indication, integrated circuits, and trade secrets.

  • Patents: These are legal rights granted for new inventions employing scientific and technical knowledge. Examples: A new drug for the treatment of AIDS and a new cell phone.
  • Industrial designs: A design is an idea or conception as to the features of shape, configuration pattern, ornament of composition of lines or colours applied to any article, two or three • dimensional or both by any industrial process or means which in the finished article appeals to and is judged solely by the eye or product. Example: Design as applied to shoes, TV. textiles.
  • Trade marks: A track mark is a visual symbol in the form of a word, service or label applied to an article of a manufacturer or commerce with a view light Mini Its OKI public the origin of manufacture of the goods affixed with that mark. It distinguishes such goods from others in the trade Examples Coca Cola in soft drinks, SONY in electronic goods
  • Copyrights: A copyright is basically the right to copy and makes use or literary. Dramatic, musical, artistic works, cinema films, records and broadcasts. It is proprietary right and comes into existence as soon as the work is created. The concepts had its origin in the common law. Subsequently, it came to be governed by the statutory laws of each country. Examples: poems, artistic drawings, paintings, computer/programs.
  • Protection for new plant varieties: TRIPS provisions of the WTO agreement make it mandatory for member countries to provide protection for new plant varieties. Examples: New variety of rice or wheat. The provisions have given member countries two options for providing protection to new plant varieties: (a) under the patent law itself, and (b) by a separate system.
  • Geographical indications: Geographical indications identify goods as originating in the territory of a country, an origin or a locality in that territory, where a specific quality, reputations or other characteristics of the goods is essentially attributed to their geographical origin. Example: Darjeeling tea, Kancheepuram sari. The legal rights secured for an intellectual property under appropriate legislation can be enforced only within the boundary of the country which grants such rights For example, the rights secured by the grant of a patent in Indian can be enforced only in India. In other words. There is nothing like a world patent or an international patent. Hence, if one desires protection for an IP created for one’s invention in different countries, one has to make separate applications in each country according to the law and practice prevailing in that country. In other words, the TRIPS provisions of the WTO.

Agreement do not envisage one patent that will be valid in all member countries. It is not necessary that a product/process (invention) should be protected under an appropriate IP law for its commercialization. The inventor has the right to commercialize the invention if the said invention is not already protected by somebody else. However, protection under IPR is considered essential for the' promotion of technological, industrial and economical developments of a country as it provides incentives for the inventions and ensures adequate returns on commercialization of the invention. Among IP systems, patents can be said to be the most common, important and complicated ones because of their techno-legal nature and the widest and sets legal protection one can secure. The benefits of the IP systems are, the fore, explained with reference to the patent system. Patents are in addition to exclusive legal rights for the invention disclosed, and are useful for

1.   advancing knowledge and bringing new knowledge eventually into the public through the unique source of information contained therein:

2.   identifying the trends;

3.   evaluating the strength of competitors;

4.   identifying unexplored areas for undertaking R & D so as to become a leader in the area; and

5.   identifying unprotected areas to avoid infringement.

Indian scenario: In India there are four enactments:

1. The Patents Act 1970

2. The Copyrights Act 1957

3. Trade and Merchandise Act 1958

4. The Design Act 1911

These are supported by a host of other supplementary acts and amendments. The new industrial policy of 1991 opened up India to economic acceleration. In atmosphere, the transnational corporations which have stepped into India for trade in inventions, technology and services were concerned about legal protection; and so was the indigenous industry. In the Indian context. the Contract Act 1872. the laws of Torts are also relevant to the subject. The legislation concerned with the transfer of technology covers a number of other statutes and regulations like the Indian Companies Act 1956, income tax Act 1969. the FERA (FTMA) as amended and so on.

Starting with Law, patent systems from storehouse technology. It provides the means of innovations to commerce.

A patent for a particular innovation is the grant of monopoly for the commercial industrial exploitation of the invention by a person to whom it is granted. The patentee is entitled to license sell his invention to Others in return loyalty. Patent is closely related to product process technology, which is broadly classified to include

(a) intangible property that can legally protected;

(b) technical know-how product or process that cannot be patented because it is information not generally known.
The Indian Patent Act 1970, as amended by 1999 Act, deals with its. Object Of pata1t law is to research and grant exclusive privileges to patentees.

The patent law requires the to disclose his invention fully and dearly the invention. The (Hails to disclose bibliographic information, description of invention, summary, brief description of the training needs and claims since the Indian Act 1970 provides various checks to prevent invalid patents being granted right. Detailed scrutiny is done at the patent office and objection invited from tip public. As soon as the application for the patent is advertised as accepted, the patent office makes the complete specification filed in pursuance of the application, open public inspection and prints the same for public distribution. The Act provides publication of notification in the official gazette. These relate to procedures Rind of complete proceedings, sealing of patents. renewal fee payment, amendment proceedings, non-working license proceedings patents, change in the name of applicant, declaration of intension by the regarding the revocation of a patent, etc. Novelty and utility ae as basic requisites of a patent The Controller General of patents, Design md Trade marks on the patent information system. 

The-salient features of the Patents Act 1970 are:

•   Patents can be granted for methods of the process but not substance as per section, in respect Of inventions relating to food, drugs, and medicines, or substance prepare by a chemical process.

•   The period of validity of the patent of process relating to and drugs is five years from the date of the ceiling of patent seven from the date of the patent, whichever is In Case of it is 14 years

.•   It provides for endorsement of patent with the words of right'.

•   It provides compulsory licensing on some other circumstances as well.

•   It provides for use of an invention for purpose of government acquisition of invention by the Central Government.

•   It provides for the revocation of patents in the public interest.


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Yash BansalYash BansalMember since Nov 2018
Content Manager (GATE)
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