From the Editor

As I write my final letter from the editor, I can’t help but reminisce about my time with Viterbi Conversations in Ethics. It has been just over two years since I first joined the VCE team as a co-editor; during that time, I have helped publish four issues, two of which I oversaw as the editor-in-chief. From the start, I have been motivated by the opportunity to read interesting perspectives on a breadth of topics and share my joy of discussing ethical dilemmas with others. Over these past two years, VCE has not failed to deliver; for example, I recently learned about the intrigue and strife surrounding the capacitors that power our phones and that solar panels, while an excellent source of renewable energy, have a dirty secret: their construction is highly damaging to the environment. Beyond indulging my interests, VCE has allowed me to share the thoughts and arguments of my peers with a wider audience. I sincerely hope that the content I have published has encouraged others to seriously contemplate their actions both in a broader context and from new perspectives.

With that, I would like to introduce this issue of Viterbi Conversations in Ethics. This issue is comprised of five papers, each addressing a very different field. The first paper discusses autonomous weapon systems and argues that they are justified under a rule-based utilitarian framework. The second analyzes the ethicality of the software engineering practices currently used to drive user engagement on social media sites.

The next two papers address issues in biology, albeit from completely different perspectives. Ashlynn Smith discusses our responsibility, as explorers of the cosmos, to prevent extraterrestrial contamination, with a particular focus on microbial contamination of other celestial bodies. On the other hand, Jonathan Sussman discusses the delicate issue of using human embryos in scientific research while addressing the concerns posed by groups opposed to such ideas.

Finally, we conclude this issue with a paper on food engineering by Annie Lee that address engineered cravings, food industry funding in research, and conflicts of interest in the medical field.

I hope these articles not only serve as starting points for further conversations but also encourage you to explore the ethical underpinnings of the world around you.

Brandon Chew, VCE Editor-in-Chief

  • Food Engineering and Industry Influence on Nutrition
    The food industry, in its unceasing quest for profits, has been insidiously undermining public health. Not only are they engineering foods to be more addictive, they are also actively influencing both public policy and research by funding groups and projects that pander to their desired corporate image. To combat the food industry’s deceptive practices, I recommend a government intervention that institutes industry-wide standards that benefit public health with changes based on the recommendations of conflict-free research and unbiased advocacy groups.
  • Killing on Instinct: A Defense of Autonomous Weapon Systems for Offensive Combat
    Autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are machines that can undertake lethal action in a combat scenario without the direct input of a human controller. This paper justifies the use of AWS under a rule utilitarian lens. Such weapons are more effective than human-operated systems, reduce collateral damage, and are superior at abiding by international law. Common counter arguments against AWS are also presented and refuted.
  • Limits to Social Media Engagement: An Ethical Approach
    User engagement levels of social media platforms have seen a steady increase over the past decade. Software engineering practices are responsible for drawing users in and retaining their attention for extended periods of time through the use of extensive user profiling algorithms. These practices have created detrimental consequences for consumers. This article explores the ethicality behind such practices by analyzing software engineering applications.
  • Not My Space Administration
    Microbial and mechanical contamination of other planets is an ethical risk versus reward battle that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grapples with each mission. Humankind strives to explore and discover, but potentially at the expense of ecosystems apart from our own. Humanity must evaluate the consequences of planetary contamination, as we are the only known species with access to the external universe. There is an imminent responsibility to preserve and protect outer worlds and be noble in our quest in conquering the final frontier.
  • Stem Cells: A Case for the Use of Human Embryos in Scientific Research
    Embryonic stem cells have immense medical potential. While both their acquisition for and use in research are fraught with controversy, arguments against their usage are rebutted by showing that embryonic stem cells are not equivalent to human lives. It is then argued that not using human embryos is unethical. Finally, an alternative to embryonic stem cells is presented.