Volume 2. Issue 1. Spring 2004
Spring Board of Governors Meeting
The spring board of governors meeting was held in conjunction with the University of Texas Ethics Conference (see below). Minutes of the meeting can be found at http://chortle.ccsu.edu/BOG/BOGindex.html.
SSIT Sponsors Ethics Conference Sessions in Austin, Texas
IEEE-SSIT Treasurer Karl Stephan, SSIT Board of Governors member Janet Rochester, and IEEE Technology and Society Magazine Editor Joe Herkert, were among the SSIT participants at the University of Texas Ethics Conference, “Foundations for Ethical Education in a Post-Enron Age,” April 16, 2004, in Austin, Texas.
SSIT sponsored, and Karl Stephan organized, two of the conference sessions Friday, on engineering ethics.
In one of the SSIT-sponsored sessions, invited speaker Joe Herkert presented “Back to the Future: Engineering, Computing, and Ethics.” Herkert discussed statements made by Sun Microsystem co-founder Bill Joy, where Joy suggests that “certain paths of scientific and technological research – genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology – [pose] such great danger to the future that we ought to think twice before proceeding” with them. Herkert noted that Joy has said, “what distinguishes these technologies from earlier ones is their potential for self-replication, thus raising the specter of a `future [that] doesn’t need us.’”
Exploring such issues, and dealing in general with technologies such as robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering, creates a “growing need for collaboration among engineering ethicists and computer ethicists,” Herkert said. The incorporation of engineering and computer ethics into engineering education will be crucial. Herkert outlined the development of engineering ethics and computer ethics as academic disciplines over the past several decades.
An important milestone in the development of the field, said Herkert, was the Code of Ethics for Engineers approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in 1980. The Code stated: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.” After disasters such as the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion shook the engineering profession, ABET educational criteria began to give the field of ethics an increasingly prominent role in engineering education, with efforts to integrate the study of ethics into the requirements for a U.S. engineering degree.
Janet Rochester, invited speaker at the other engineering ethics session, asked students and young engineers, “What Does it Mean to be a Professional?”
“We like to think that the word 'professional' has meaning,” said Rochester. She outlined characteristics of a professional, noting, “Society trusts engineers. We have to demonstrate that we are trustworthy.”
Rochester, recently retired from Lockheed Martin, told young engineers that they should consider their profession’s service orientation. “You are serving the public directly or indirectly. Keep the end user in mind,” she said. “Volunteer your talents” at schools and on a personal level, Rochester added. Help “make engineering better understood by the general public.”
In closing, Rochester urged young engineers to also keep the wider needs of society in mind. Quoting from Arthur Ashe, Rochester said, “What you do for money gives you a living. What you do for others gives you a life.”
Keynote speakers at the UT Ethics Conference were Dallas Willard (“Ethical Knowledge in the Academy before G.E. Moore”), Aine Donovan (“Ethical Marginalia – How Educators Shape a Civic Vision”), and David Novak (“Can there be Common Moral Norms in a Multi-Cultural Context?”)
An SSIT Board of Governors regional meeting was also held at UT on Saturday April 17.
ISTAS 2005 will be held June 8-10, 2005 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Ca. Sponsored by IEEE-SSIT and Loyola Marymount University, the conference theme is Weapons and Wires: Social Implications of ICT and Global Security. More information can be found at the conference website:
Questions, comments, and items of interest should be directed to the newsletter editor: Karl Perusich, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org.