Engineering and ethics: The Moral Limits of Technology

Engineering and ethics.

The Moral Limits of Technology

The breakneck speed of technological innovation often means that innovators find themselves in uncharted moral territory. This can be both exciting and dangerous at the same time. As the fictional Dr. Ian Malcolm said in the movie Jurassic Park, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The concerns of social critics, politicians, and the public are often pushed to the wayside.

Philosophers and ethicists distinguish between the descriptive (what we can do) and the prescriptive (what we should do). This is sometimes called the “is-ought” gap. One does not imply the other: just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

For this week’s assignment, you will conduct research into technologies that currently are in “uncharted moral territory.”

The first section should be a brief description of the technology you have identified. What is it, and how does it work?

The second section should be the main focus. You will answer the following questions:

·         What are two distinct moral questions that it raises? (think of the concepts covered in the lesson)

·         How have the experts tried to answer them?

·         Are their answers acceptable?

·         Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of this technology?

By way of example, you might write about autonomous vehicle technology and the decision-making procedure a computer is programmed to take when it runs into conflicts involving different human lives.

Make sure that you justify your answers. Do not just give your opinion.

Here are some other examples you might consider:

·         “Smart” assistants (e.g. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri)

·         “Smart” devices (e.g. Apple Watch, Smart glasses, RFID body implants)

·         Reproductive technology (e.g. “transitioning” for transgender individuals)

·         Human genetic engineering / GMOs / Genetically engineered animals

·         DNA ancestry testing (e.g. 23andMe,, MyHeritage)

You are free to pick your own example, but it must be something that is currently in “moral limbo.”

For your submission, you will need to provide your own thoughts on the assignment, but in third person.  Here is a guide to writing in third person as well as an excellent guide on mistakes to avoid in any type of writing.

Generally, you will use outside materials to support your point.  For instance, in this assignment, you obviously will be using a code of ethics as an outside source.  Whenever you use other materials, you need to either paraphrase that material or quote it.  However, you are not supposed to quote large chunks of the material.  Here are two guides on paraphrasing and quoting:

·          Computer Science Research Guide – Quoting and Paraphrasing   

·          The Writing Center

Also, when you use outside materials, you need to let the reader know what materials were used, so if they want to look up more information, they can.  This process of letting the reader know what materials are used involves two steps: citing and reference.  The citing is done inside the paper or PowerPoint slide and tells the reader which reference is used on the reference page or slide.  The reference is all the information the reader needs to go find that resource. 

There are some standards which organizations and publishers use for referring to these materials so that what they publish is uniform.  For instance, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is a popular organization for computer science and information systems.  They have their own ‘style guide,’ which includes the standards for writing in that organization and for others in computer science.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) style guide is often used by electrical engineers.  The American Psychological Association (APA) style guide is a standard for the liberal arts.  Grantham, as a whole, uses this as the standard for all of their general education and many other courses.  In this class, you are free to use the ACM, IEEE, or APA way for referencing your materials.  Here are some links to show you how to cite and reference the materials in any of the three formats:

·         Computer Science Research Guide – Writing and Citing

·         Computer Science Research Guide – Examples

·         How to easily reference APA with Microsoft Word

For your submission, choose ONE of the following ways to answer the above questions.

NOTE: In identifying the similarities and differences, you should provide at least a few sentences which explain each of the similarities or differences

  1. Write a one-to-two-page paper (not including title page or references, submit as a Word document).  Use Times New Roman or Calibri, font size 12, one-inch margins, double-spaced.  Don’t forget to cite inside the paper.  Be sure to include references at the end.