From the Editor

“Civil engineers build bridges. Electrical engineers, power grids. Software engineers, apps. From the engineers who created the Great Pyramids to the engineers who are designing and developing tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles, these visionaries and their tangible creations are inextricably linked.”
– Dinesh Paliwal

Not only are engineers inextricably linked to their creations, they are equally linked to the society that utilizes the products that they have invented, developed, and improved. As a part of that bond, engineers have a responsibility to consider the societal impacts engendered by their product or service, from the preparation that lays the foundation for a project, to the long-term effects that materialize years after its construction or purchase. The four papers comprising this issue of Viterbi Conversation in Ethics seek to explore the responsibility entrusted to the engineering community.

The first paper in this issue explores the responsibilities of civil engineers in the context of archeological findings at construction sites. After a short exploration of the right to pollute, the second paper explores potential economic policy options for combatting climate change while also addressing the need for engineers and scientists to contribute to the public discourse.

Finally, we conclude the issue with two papers that explore the responsibilities of engineers in the realm of computer science. The first paper discusses government backdoors in cloud services with a specific focus on China and the role of software engineers in the protection of computer science. The second paper highlights the biases that have cropped up in many machine learning algorithms and their subsequent effects while emphasizing the need for engineers to be cognizant of the biases incorporated into their own products.

We hope these articles not only inform you of current topics in engineering ethics, but also serve as a starting point for further conversations and in-depth analyses into the many ethical conundrums that currently face the engineering community.

Brandon Chew, VCE Editor-in-Chief

  • The Ethics of Engineering in the Construction Field
    In the construction world, time is money. Civil engineers are constantly up against the clock in a race to make deadlines and complete projects on time in order to receive contract bonuses. Any delay whether it be big or small is met with dismay from those involved in the project as it makes deadlines harder to achieve. This can be problematic as excavating a site can uncover all sorts of archaeological findings, such as ancient artifacts and even human remains. According to federal law, when findings such as these are discovered, they are to be reported to the supervisor who…
  • Encouraging Corporate Policy: An Ethical Analysis of Environmental Regulatory Methods
    A powerful impetus for corporate environmental policy change is government mandated regulations. Before addressing the current regulatory regime, the right to pollute must first be discussed. Then, the pros and cons of two methods – the cost-benefit and polluter pays methods – will be introduced. Next are policy recommendations that attempt to address the cons of the recommended polluter pays system. Finally, the role of scientists and engineers in the public discourse regarding environmental regulations, and in general, will be laid out.
  • The Ethics of Machine Learning and Discrimination
    Humans carry inherent biases. We are influenced by how we are raised, whom we interact with, and what information is provided to us. These biases, especially when they are formed due to prejudice, can have extremely negative impacts. In efforts to make important decisions efficiently, without being affected by personal biases, many institutions have turned to computer algorithms to be impartial. This tactic could take human subjectiveness out of the decision-making equation. Recent advances have improved algorithms with machine learning, meaning the computer itself can make new connections based on provided historical data. This feature allows computers to constantly improve…
  • Government Backdoor in Cloud Services: Ethics of Data Security
    In February 2018, users of Apple’s cloud service “iCloud” in China received a notification stating that all of their data were being moved from Apple’s servers to a state-run data center, Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD). In the updated terms of service, Apple stated that both they and GCBD reserve the right to access users’ data when requested by the Chinese government [1]. This action was Apple’s response to China’s 2017 Cybersecurity Law, which forces companies operating in China to host all data within its territory [2]. While it is natural for a company to obey local regulations, granting the government…