Ethics and Engineering

"A professional - engineer, doctor, lawyer, or teacher - should have a well-rounded education, which teaches the technical expertise of the field, but also instructs the whole human being about the pleasures and responsibilities of being a contributing member of society."

The most important part of any career is training. If you want to become anything from a cook to an astronaut, it is important that you know how to do your job. Education is key to be able to do a job. But, for certain professionals, such as engineers, doctors, doing the job right may include a lot more than what they were taught, or could be taught, in any school. These professions must also learn how to be responsible to the public. People in such jobs must be instructed on the responsibilities of being a contributing member of society.

Most professionals feel their duty is to serve their client, or to do their job to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, this is not good enough. When a person's profession or the product of their work will involve the public, that person should also be responsible to the public. The only concern of an engineer cannot be to make a bridge as sound as possible in a certain budget. If the people are to be crossing over this bridge, an engineer must also consider if it is possible to truly make this bridge safe within the allotted budget. He must not think purely of the technical aspects of the bridge making, but of the human side. Statements like "Is it safe?" should be replaced by "Is the bridge safe enough?" Whenever one's work involves the public, one must be concerned for the public's health and safety.

Professionals today must make judgement calls that were never required of them before. They must decide whether what is good for science and technology is good for humanity. There must be a certain responsibility to an expert for what they have created. As an example, look at Albert Einstein's research in nuclear physics. After realising that a nuclear weapon was possible, he was going to stop research. However, considering the result of his actions he continued and created an item that killed thousands of people. He came to this decision after deciding that if the United States did not develop this weapon first, then Germany would, probably killing hundreds of thousands more. This was a moral dilemma that no one should face, but professionals do face other moral dilemmas every day. Should a lawyer defend a guilty man for ten times the normal fee? Or should an accountant alter some numbers to make it more favourable for the company that his brother owns? These are all tough questions, and are difficult decisions for one to make, but they must be addressed. To be a contributing member of society dictates that one should do this, but one's morals or one's finances dictate something else entirely. Nothing can be entirely correct for either side in these matters. Rather, it is a balance game where the professional himself must decide how they are going to tip the scales.

The ability to communicate with others is fast becoming a requirement in every job. Professionals such as lawyers and accountants have to deal with people every day. But increasingly other specialists, such as engineers or scientists, must deal with unions, management, citizens, and special interest groups. Being able to recognise and address the issues of all of these groups while still doing the best job possible takes some very skilful judgement calls. It is a delicate balance and takes practice. Increasingly now, people are required to do this without any formal training and little experience in such matters. To be fair to society, maybe one should lean towards the union's or the municipality's side of an issue. To keep one's job and to keep unnecessary costs down low, one should take the company's side. So what side should one really take? No one can be sure, but the decision will be left up to the professional, and so they must be given guidance on how to face these issues. A professional must be trained in skills outside their trade.

Knowledge and responsibility are two things that should