From the Editor

I’ve been an editor at VCE for the past two and a half years. I’ve written 16 weekly news profiles, read hundreds of submissions, and this will be my third letter introducing an issue as editor-in-chief of the magazine. All this is to say that working with VCE has changed the trajectory of my life, and it is my sincere hope that reading this issue might change the trajectory of your day. Engaging with ethics content on a regular basis has undeniably made me a better, more thoughtful person, and I wholeheartedly believe that it is a habit that anyone would benefit from. It is my honor to help provide at least some of that content and my hope that you will find this issue both thought-provoking and compelling.

We begin with two deep dives into the rapidly developing tech world written by Matthew Wilson and Daniel Chaderjian. Wilson explains the alarming realities of the global zero-day exploit market and the part that the U.S. government plays in it. Can cyberattacks become the weapon of choice in a future which allows for bloodless war? Or are the zero-days simply endangering American citizens with no knowledge of their existence? Chaderjian takes another look at social media and the massive impact it can have on mental health, body image, and self-esteem, particularly among young people. While beautification technology is popular and profitable, can it be ethical given its known effects?

Then we move into questions of environmental ethics with Kaylee Tseng’s exploration of microplastics. While plastics have much to offer, especially during a pandemic where requirements for sterile, single-use tools skyrocketed, does the damage the plastics do both to the environment and to our health mean that sustainable and decomposable alternatives are ethically mandated?

We finish with Helen Situ’s discussion of megaprojects and case study of the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau bridge. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and cities get bigger, projects like this only grow in scale. But do their environmental impacts and bloated costs make them indefensible?

I hope that these papers bring new and interesting developments in engineering to your attention while also prompting you to consider the ethical implications of everyday technologies and actions. With that, I’m delighted to introduce the first issue of Volume 6 of VCE! Happy reading!

Isabel Brieler, VCE Editor-in-Chief

  • The Ethics of Stockpiling Zero-Day Vulnerabilities
    The development of new technology has allowed the evolution of new methods of warfare. The use of zero-days has propelled this exploration and empowered governments to remotely attack the software systems of their adversaries. Despite the potential military benefits of this weapon, government officials are still questioning whether they should stockpile zero-days, especially when the vulnerability is found in software that everyday citizens use. Analyses of previous zero-day attacks and the US government’s overpowering national security stance reveals that the consequences of stockpiling zero-days outweigh the benefits and are a clear violation of the rights of citizens.
  • Artificial and Unreal: The Ethics of Beautification Technology for Images and Social Media
    In today’s digital age, social media plays a major role in the development of adolescent minds. Young people begin posting content in their early years and are exposed to a feed of others’ pictures and videos. However, while this system may ostensibly help people stay in contact with those they do not see in person, it also creates an environment of comparison that can lead to self-esteem and body image issues. Beautification technology like augmented reality filters and photoshop have only exacerbated the issue, making it so that young people are not only comparing themselves to a curated version of others, but an entirely manufactured one. Engineers have a responsibility to examine the possible negative effects of the products they create, and beautification technology leads to far more harm than good.
  • A Credit Card a Week: The Environmental Ethics of Plastics
    In an industrialized world, it seems impossible to live without plastics. From food storage to aircrafts, plastics provide benefits that make them an irreplaceable material. However, a consistent increase in plastic production and use has led to a massive plastic pollution crisis. Plastics are produced from non-renewable resources and can never fully decompose. They end up in our oceans, our environment, and even our stomachs (a credit card’s worth per week). Additionally, the massive amount of plastic waste has created a global plastic trade that unfairly places the burden of waste processing on less developed countries that may not be able to support even their own waste. The effects of plastic pollution are reaching a critical stage, and engineers must find solutions to relieve the growing pressure.
  • The Costs of Megaprojects: An Analysis of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
    Megaprojects are large scale investment projects, many of which are internationally famous, such as Australia’s Sydney Opera House, SpaceX’s program to colonize Mars, and the Panama Canal. Megaprojects garner a high level of excitement — and justly so, as they hold cultural, economic, and social significance. However, the questionable ethics of megaprojects needs to be examined as they increasingly become the dominant mode of infrastructure construction.