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Teaching ethics in the engineering design process: a legal scholar's view

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1 Author(s)
Brannigan, V.M. ; Dept. of Fire Protection Eng., Maryland Univ., College Park, MD, USA

Engineering ethics are a critical "gap filler" in the regulation of technology. Engineers, as "professionals," are given professional autonomy in promoting risky activities, based on a promise that they will act in the public interest. The legal system, both in regulation and liability, puts constraints on the design process, but often leaves gaps that must be filled by ethical precepts. The conflict between the public interest and the private interest of the engineer is often most acute in the acceptance or rejection of relatively rare risks in the design of products. Rare risks normally involve the greatest uncertainty of injury. These rare risks of catastrophic injury can fall "under the radar" of regulatory systems, or technological advances may make regulatory systems obsolete. The other major risk category are "system risks," in which individual engineers assume that some other party will take care of the risk. Teaching engineers to recognize and deal with these risks is critical. In particular, reliance on regulatory approval may be inadequate. Designing products that hold paramount the public safety must be the benchmark for engineering ethics.

Published in:

Antennas and Propagation Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:47 ,  Issue: 1 )