Engineers have the potential of developing technology that will be used by hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. Since so many people are using this technology, it has to be safe and it has to benefit one population without making another suffer. As the engineers design new technology, they are the ones that have an ethical responsibility to ensure that it will not endanger lives or cause any suffering. The purpose of the essay is to explore the specific issues that face electrical engineers. The primary focus in this essay will be addressing the question: how can an issue be an ethical concern if it does not directly endanger human life or society? This is particularly important as in contrast to other branches of engineering, the moral issues surrounding electrical engineering do not usually affect a consumer’s health or lead to injury or death. A civil engineering dilemma could involve a building collapsing or roads falling apart leading to direct death or injury, such as the "L'Ambiance Plaza Collapse"1 in Connecticut, or the "Sampoong Department Store Collapse"2 in Seoul. However, as discussed in Fleddermann (2000)3, the problems faced by electrical engineers are no less important, and that the engineers in this discipline should be aware of the particular ethical dilemmas of this field. The field of electrical engineering covers a wide range of technology from power generation and transmission lines to integrated circuits used in computers. This essay will outline, using real-life examples, three major concerns in electrical engineering and explain how they impact the world on an international scale. The current solutions to the ethical dilemmas will be evaluated using ethical analysis, and alternative solutions will be provided. The following scenarios are an excellent illustration of the ethical issues that electrical engineers have to face and opens up a unique discussion about their responsibilities in both a national and international setting. Issue 1 - Quality of product vs. commercial success
Electrical engineers are involved in the manufacturing of everyday household appliances. The circuitry that is designed is used in products that are sold by the manufacturer. Manufacturer's can prioritise the commercial success of their product over the actual quality. This can result in a conflict of interest between manufacturer and engineer since the manufacturer can be financially motivated, whereas an engineer is supposed to hold paramount the welfare of public in their professional duties (engineering code of ethics)5. An example of this is the manufacturing of the Intel microprocessor in 19944. The microprocessor had a flaw in it that meant that a regularly used operation by users would give the incorrect results. The engineers knew of this problem, and rectified it for future version. Despite this, Intel continued selling the product. This error was found by users, and Intel decided it would only replace microprocessor with a good one to people who could demonstrate that they needed it. Should Intel have provided a replacement regardless? Since Intel was aware of the problem, was it unethical to withhold this information from the users? If this information had been given, and warnings had been included, does this solve the ethical problems for the company? According to Intel, since the error was so minor it would not affect the majority of users. However the few people would have ‘suffered’ from this flaw could have been rectified if Intel had offered to replace their microprocessor for free. This is what Intel did do and so according to utilitarianism principles their response was ethically sound. However, what was immoral was the fact that they did not bring up this issue themselves, and that they continued manufacturing and selling the product without warnings. They did not respect the dignity of their consumers enough to let them be informed consumers. By applying Kantian ethics,...
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