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The Ethics of Engineering and Business

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As a general rule engineers and scientists do not harbour any ambition to disadvantage their fellow man, quite the reverse! They get up every day with an ambition to improve the situation and do so against a backdrop of hard-earned truths, practices and physical laws. In effect; they come to the party with an ethical framework of investigation, experimentation, innovation, design, build, deploy and support! It is in their DNA; forged (tried and tested) over hundreds of years and one of the founding components of our technological advance and success. Without such discipline; such a framework; such experience and knowledge we would still be in the realms of Alchemy and Witchcraft!

Outside this sector, we see a far fuzzier, uncertain and ill-defined world of management that spans every human activity from companies to institutions, governments and the military. Here the rules of the game are far more uncertain and dynamic, and the ethical framework far less developed and clear.

In every domain we remain governed by human behaviours and fallibilities. And to err is human - that is; mistakes happen no matter what laws and frameworks are in place. Even if we are open, honest and ethical stuff still goes wrong! But overall our intent is to minimise the occurrence of damage, hurt, injury and death!

In this lecture and the associated series on management we lay out the essentials of professional ethics and give examples of classic fails. We also include exercises in ethics for students to engage and think through.

In the same way laws do not eradicate crime; ethics cannot stop all errors!

Published in: Engineering
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The Ethics of Engineering and Business

  1. 1. The Ethics of Engineering: Technology: Science Business: Management: Leadership Prof Peter Cochrane OBE www.petercochrane.com
  2. 2. Complexity Ethics spans every aspect of human activity
  3. 3. Narrative http://scrippsmediaethics.blogspot.com/2013/09/do-ethics-and-bias-go-hand-in-hand.html Worth a read E.W.Scripps School of Journalism
  4. 4. Basics Ethics: Principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity Morals: Describe one's value set concerning what is right and what is wrong Essence: Doing the right thing - no matter what !
  5. 5. Positioning Ethics = Rules of behaviour based on ideas about what is morally good and bad A company, organisation, profession: may have its own code of ethics — its own set of rules/bounds on acceptable behaviours
 Philosophy = An area of study dealing with good and bad behaviour: what is morally right or wrong
 Belief = Something identified as being very important — usually singular (peace, work ethic, justice, accuracy, reliability…)

  6. 6. My Short Form “Making the right decisions even if they disadvantage you in some way” • planet/environment • species/societies • country/nation • company/organisation • clients/customers • share holders/governors • our departments • employees/people/contractors • our departments • our families • our careers • our prosperity Scale of Priorities/ Subordination What is right for our: ] Most Important Least Important
  7. 7. Many Guises An operating framework people commit to adhere to
  8. 8. Many Guises All binary, true or false, connected, and mutually dependent A brittle construct: fail on one and you fail on them all Failures can be irreversible and very damaging
  9. 9. Science, Discovery and Fundamental Truths Technology, Engineering and Infrastructures Farming, Food, Industries Institutions and Defence B a l a n c i n g A C T Risk often climbs to the top…
  10. 10. Science, Discovery and Fundamental Truths Technology, Engineering and Infrastructures Farming, Food, Industries Institutions and Defence Lies Untruths Errors Guesses Distortions Cross Checks Evidence Base Understanding Knowledge Theories Models Tests B a l a n c i n g A C T Government Media, Society Risk often climbs to the top…
  11. 11. Short Forms “Don’t be evil” “Do the right thing” “Think” “Think Different” “Make it matter” “Life’s Good” The company motto This is all about ‘buy in’ and identity — it is the modern equivalent of the ‘coat of arms’ or the battle flag invoking a sense of loyalty, belonging, and trust…
  12. 12. At The Core “We endeavour to make the right judgement calls and decisions even when they are disadvantageous to our personal situation and/or interests” Ethics Challenges Our Relationships Loyalties Integrity Honesty Values +++
  13. 13. Our value chain is binary and if we let one element or quality fail then our integrity is lost and repair is generally impossible… All or Nothing We cannot be: • Periodically yielding to bribery or coercion • Sometimes profiting from inside info • Reckless when it makes life easy • Honest for some of the time • Professional when suits us • Uncaring every other day • Neglectful now & again • Selectively respectful • Accepting of favours • Partially truthful • Unfair at will • +++ Being Ethical is a one way ticket - you are or you aren’t - and there is no middle ground Ethics - the underpinning framework of all the professions - the value set that presents our basic standards of behaviour
  14. 14. Ethic-less Madoff Ebbers ManifortTrump Liar ? Thief ? Bully ? Unjust Selfish ? Corrupt ? Divisive ? Immoral ? Corrupt Deceiver ? Dishonest ? Manipulator ? Unprincipled ? Dishonourable ? In Jail At large In Jail In Jail
  15. 15. Does anyone care anymore? The Cult of Trump
  16. 16. Not so long ago! Selling a lie with the aid of glamour and envy…
  17. 17. Not so long ago! Selling a lie with the aid of a little mystery and romance…
  18. 18. Not so long ago! Not just unethical and dishonest but totally corrupt!
  19. 19. Sales & Marketing So very easy to be corrupted: ambition, ££, kudos, deadlines, targets, rewards, reputation… Dishonest, immoral, Unethical, liar…
  20. 20. Engineering Fails Ignorance not ethics…but we learn and change with every failure…sadly the cost is all too often human lives… …not to heed such errors and failures would be an ethical failure… …we are not in the business of repeating mistakes and engineering failures and/or injury or the loss of life
  21. 21. Engineering Fails Ignorance not ethics…but we learn and change with every failure…sadly the cost is all too often human lives… …not to heed such errors and failures would be an ethical failure… …we are not in the business of repeating mistakes and engineering failures and/or injury or the loss of life
  22. 22. Management Fail Engineers were not only advising management that they were looking at an almost certain disaster…they were actively protesting… …management chose to override all the advice and we n t a h e a d w i t h t h e launch… …and 7 astronauts died minutes into their flight !
  23. 23. January 1985 First cold weather launch Post launch investigation reveals ‘O-Ring’ failure July 1985 Supplier (Morton Thiokol) redesigns ‘O-Rings’ New version unavailable for Challenger launch January 1986 Challenger - even colder weather launch Predictable ‘O-Ring’ failure sees hot gasses burn through/ignite main engine fuel tank
  24. 24. Engineering Weakness The (Morton Thiokol) solid state boosters were insufficiently tested due to $$ pressures Materials used for the O-Ring seals were know to be inadequate at low temperatures There was a lack of spare parts - also due to budget pressures The overnight pre launch temperature fell to -13.3C At launch the air temperature was -2.2C The engineers were >90% sure the seals would fail BUT no one would listen and lives were lost!
  25. 25. Management Fail NASA had been without a permanent CEO for 4 months and was in disarray The Flight Centre Director had mandated that there would be no more delays NASA was under political and media pressure to perform, to deliver the program Lower level employees were constrained by bureaucracy and were not heard The (Morton Thiokol) solid state boosters had known low temperature problems Morton Thiokol were also under commercial and political pressure The MT Engineers could not give a rock solid NO-GO statement So NASA Management took this as a GO!
  26. 26. Mismatch or Ethical Fail? High tech fails to understand political ignorance of the old people who just don’t understand ? Politicians so arrogant they feel an entitlement to make no effort to keep up with modern society ?
  27. 27. Protocol or Ethical Fail? Operational specification and user manuals out of step… A software upgrade required but two aircraft down with all lives lost… The 737 series of aircraft have a very chequered history going back decades… https://bit.ly/2OeT2pE
  28. 28. Perspective
  29. 29. Perspective Regulation = Played a big part in establishing ethics in the world of advertising and marketing… …in the past it was akin to the Wild West - running wild and loose; selling falsehoods and impossible dreams… …people were damages or injured or killed as a result
  30. 30. Engineers and Managers Well-defined operational and ethical frameworks overseen by associated professional bodies…. …including modus operandi, codes of conduct and defined behavioural expectations… …also aligned with branding, vision, mission, and the commercial, market, trading, ecological and sociology targets and responsibilities…
  31. 31. We, the members of the IEEE, in recognition of the importance of our technologies in affecting the quality of life throughout the world, and in accepting a personal obligation to our profession, its members, and the communities we serve, do hereby commit ourselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct and agree: to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public, to strive to comply with ethical design and sustainable development practices, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment; to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist; to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data;   to reject bribery in all its forms;  
  32. 32. to improve the understanding by individuals and society of the capabilities and societal implications of conventional and emerging technologies, including intelligent systems;  
 to maintain and improve our technical competence and to undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified by training or experience, or after full disclosure of pertinent limitations;   to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;   to treat fairly all persons and to not engage in acts of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action;   to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics.
  33. 33. https://www.theiet.org/membership/professional-values/professional-ethics/ https://www.theiet.org/membership/professional-values/professional-ethics/ https://www.iop.org/about/royal_charter/file_38393.pdf https://www.raeng.org.uk/policy/engineering-ethics/ethics https://www.iod.org.nz/Portals/0/Publications/Founding%20Docs/Code%20of%20Practice.pdf https://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/governance/p7-8.html
  34. 34. Rock and a Hard Place War games and other mental dilemmas and challenges
  35. 35. 9/11 Phase 2 A hijacked airliner packed with families, three school trips, business people and crew totalling over 700 souls High-jackers have guns and bombs and have already killed 3 passengers and a member of the crew Incomplete intelligence information suggests they intend crashing into the City of London You have 15 mins to decide shoot, or not! An RAF F35 fighter is on station, armed and able to shoot down this airliner Working in groups of 5: debate, decide & be prepared to explain the rationale that led to your final decision
  36. 36. Disaster Scenario A major train accident has killed more than 50 people with another 250 sustaining injuries spanning the minor - serious - life threatening
  37. 37. Disaster Scenario Casualties are arbitraged into 4 groups: 1) The dead: to the morgue 2) Minor Injuries: temporary fix & comfort 3) Serious Injuries: afford life support and fix asap 4) Life Threatening: Immediate surgery as available You have 5 mins to decide who you are going to try to save There are four operating theatres and teams: Patient 1: A school teacher Patient 2: A scientist Patient 3: A mother of 3 small children Patient 4: A 5 year old child Patient 5: An habitual criminal convicted of GBH Patient 6: A drug adict and wife abuser Working in groups of 5: debate, decide & be prepared to explain the rationale that led to your final decision
  38. 38. Corporate Decision A major international company enjoyed 30 years of growth and high profitability, but the last 5 years have seen stasis or contraction with growing losses Actions to date: 1) New markets have been tapped 2) New product lines have been introduced 3) Some M&A has been undertaken to no effect 4) The board have been cornered by shareholders
  39. 39. Your Decision You have 5 days to decide how you are going to ‘manage’ the situation You are managing a department of 250 The board have mandated a 25% people reduction Your boss has decided on an ‘equal pain’ strategy You have no choice but to somehow downsize by 25% However; your department is one of the most profitable You have a first class team of specialists and no ‘slack’ A <5% staff reduction would kill/damage your business Working in groups of 5: debate, decide & be prepared to explain the rationale that led to your final decision Minimise Skills Loss Slim Down Workforce ?????? ????? ??????
  40. 40. Chernobyl 1986Bhopal Gas Disaster 1984 Union Carbide India pesticide plant ranked as the world's worst industrial disaster >500,000 people exposed to methyl isocyanate gas Local government stated 3,787 gas related deaths 2006 report: 558,125 injuries and ~ 39,000 disabled The cause of the disaster remains under debate Further Reading
  41. 41. Further Reading Chernobyl 1986 UNSCEAR: ”there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident” Resettlement of evacuated areas is ongoing 2011 Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. • •The result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel. •The resulting steam explosion and fires released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere •Two Chernobyl plant workers died on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.
  42. 42. Further Reading Deepwater Horizon 2010 Owner: BP Contractor: Halliburton Rig operator: Transocean 11 Dead 115 Injured Massive ecological damage The U.S. government estimated the discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210M US gal;780km3). After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on September 19, 2010. Reports in early 2012 indicated that the well site was still leaking. Poor Management ? or Poor Engineering ?
  43. 43. Further Reading Boeing 737 Max 8 2018/19 Owner: Lion Airlines Crash: 29 Oct 2018 Location: Java Sea Casualties: 189 Dead Survivors: 0 wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_Air_Flight_610 Owner: Ethiopian Airlines Crash: 10 March 2019 Flights: ET 302 Location: Bishoftu Casualties: 157 Dead Survivors: 0 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Airlines_Flight_302 Sales over Safety ? Poor Management ? or Poor Engineering ?
  44. 44. Decisions Courage C l a r i t y It is better to make a decision than do nothing Inaction can only see a bad situation get worse - fast! BUT if you have made a wrong/bad decision you can correct Be prepared to grasp the courage of you convictions Never be afraid to fight for what is right - the ethical path If you’re going to be fired; better it happens fighting for justice The onus is upon you to make a clear and credible case Never let emotion creep into your argument lest you lose Make the situation absolutely clear and get it on the record
  45. 45. Prisoners Dilemma Self interest v assurance and trust
  46. 46. Game Theory Complex but powerful What game theory teaches us about war | Simon Sinek https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bFs6ZiynSU
  47. 47. Mindfulness The Angel of Death is always looking to take advantage of our fallibility… Our Ethical Codes are designed to minimise the chances of this happening… That does not meant to say we will not make a serious mistake or err from the ideal path… All responsible/professional managers, engineers, and scientists, worry about this prospect every day no matter the the project or situation…
  48. 48. Courage My nurse in hospital: after a ‘frank discussion’ with a consultant and two doctors… “I will not be intimidated or bullied, I am here as the patients advocate, I am here to help you recover and get better” And I am grateful for her honesty, courage, and determination to see me back to ‘normal life’ as quickly and safely as possible! We should be following here example!
  49. 49. Ethics Virginity “Once lost you can’t get it back” ~
  50. 50. “This is also true of individuals”
  51. 51. Thank You petercochrane.com

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