From the Editor

Dear VCE readers, 

As an engineering student, I recognize how studying for an engineering degree conditions one to focus on their discipline. A civil engineer may find themselves inspired by the design of a bridge and an electrical engineer may find themselves tempted to improve the efficiency of a circuit. Engineers are often tasked with solving problems, and those solutions are often found by those who have become experts within their field. This expertise is often accompanied by a genuine passion and respect for that discipline, all of which together drive the process of innovation.

At USC Viterbi, we are encouraged not only to pursue academic achievements and successful careers but also to fuel the flames of curiosity that will ignite our unanticipated passions. When we venture outside of what we know, and what we think we would like to know, we discover that we care deeply about so much more than what our classroom curriculum would suggest. With this in mind, I am proud to present the latest issue of student-written work submitted to VCE.

Our student submissions come from USC students of different disciplines, hometowns, and backgrounds. This issue is a shining example of how various vantage points can expose us to new interests, paving the way for curiosity to transform into new passions. The diversity of the topics that our writers care so deeply about highlights how engineering transcends the majors that we have chosen to study and permeates every corner of our world.

Our world – or at least how we perceive it – begins within the brain. Jennah Saqib wrote a thoughtful, philosophical piece discussing whole-brain emulation and the possible implications of pursuing this technology. Engineering simulations of the human mind could improve treatments and cures for neurological conditions, but Saqib also considers how whole-brain emulation could create a very complicated and ethically ambiguous future for humanity.

Expanding the boundaries of our world further, Janessi Diaz tackles a popular topic, genetic engineering, from a unique perspective. Diaz discusses the dichotomy surrounding antiretroviral therapy for HIV and AIDS through its ability to treat the virus and the unethical methods that make it successful in doing so. Declaring antiretroviral therapy as an unethical treatment, Diaz recommends carefully exploring genetic engineering through responsible research as an alternative.

Turning our attention away from technology that alters the human body, three of this issue’s writers examine how engineering permeates our world through how it affects our fellow humans and our environment. Jacob Harrington discusses technology meant to function without humans, though it has a significant impact on them. Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool that can be used to automate jobs, and Harrington discusses the ethicality of automating the trucking industry. He uses ethical frameworks to measure the benefits and consequences of expanding AI within the trucking industry, allowing the reader to form a conclusion as to how we should proceed.

Zoe Nussbaum’s work focuses our attention on how engineering our communities affects our neighbors. Hostile architecture is often subtle and aesthetically pleasing, though its purpose is what warrants a conversation regarding its ethicality. Nussbaum examines how public spaces are often transformed to exclude unhoused people and those who experience limited mobility, and states that much of society is complicit in the existence of hostile architecture.

Finally, Christoper Jewell examines how engineering our environment often has unintended consequences for animals and humans alike. Asian carp are an invasive species within US waterways and pose a great threat to all who live in and around the Great Lakes. Jewell discusses how the ethics of human intervention and human-centered environmentalism fall short – a problem that can be mitigated by utilizing a biocentric approach to environmental ethics.

The editing team at VCE has had the privilege of reading work from many of USC’s extremely bright and talented students. We chose the five papers presented in this issue as representatives of not only how thoughtful and skilled the USC student body is, but also how broad our interests are and how far-reaching we recognize our actions to be. On behalf of the VCE editing team, I am proud to present VCE Volume 7 Issue 1. We hope that these ethical conversations will spark our readers’ curiosities just as they did ours.

Jackie Finnemeyer, VCE Editor-in-Chief
  • Consciousness and the Self: A Philosophical Discussion of the Future of Whole Brain Emulation
    Whole brain emulation is the theory that brain scans can be used to simulate the human mind digitally. It is primarily being researched to improve understanding of the brain to treat or cure neurological illnesses and conditions. However, the concept of whole brain emulation raises ethical and philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the future of humanity. This paper explores different schools of thought on the ideas of consciousness and how they can be applied to the concept of brain simulation and ethical research practices.
  • To GEH or Not to GEH
    HIV and AIDS have devastated the lives of millions of people worldwide. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has completely transformed the reality of those impacted by HIV and AIDS, turning a death sentence into a much longer and healthier life. However, heavy pill burdens, drug resistance, and a lack of equity in current treatment make ART unethical as a long-term, permanent solution. It is up to biomedical engineers to find an ethical way to treat or cure the millions of people impacted by this virus. Genetically engineering humans (GEH) has shown great promise in improving treatment and finding a cure for HIV. If the engineers making these edits follow very thorough and specific guidelines, genetic engineering can be an ethical alternative to ART.
  • An Ethical Exploration of Automating the Trucking Industry
     In recent years, a shortage of commercial transport drivers has resulted in an inability to meet increasing demand. A proposed solution for combating this bottleneck is to automate long-haul trucks through sophisticated AI techniques. Through automation, this shortage can be resolved. Unfortunately, although there are too few truckers on the road, it remains one of the most common professions for Americans today. Thus, by embracing this technology, there is a risk of forcing a substantial portion of the population out of work. Would pursuing automated trucking be an ethical decision? Inversely, would it be unethical to disallow automation? Through various lenses, this paper will dive into this dilemma and determine the best path forward.
  • Hostile Architecture: The Ethical Problem of Design as a Means of Exclusion
    From uncomfortable park benches to unnavigable sidewalks, hostile architecture has emerged worldwide to exclude unhoused individuals from public spaces. Hostile architecture goes against the principles of engineering a communal space. Yet, it persists because it subtly banishes unhoused people from the eyes and minds of communities that fear or are ashamed of them. However, the practice is unethical towards the unhoused and those in the community who experience limited mobility. Ultimately, hostile architecture has never been a sustainable method for solving homelessness, and its use is rooted in harmful bias against unhoused people.
  • Great Stakes in the Great Lakes: Anthropocentrism and Biocentrism in Culling Asian Carp
    Asian carp are an invasive species that have dramatically damaged US waterways. Environmentalists are scrambling to find solutions to prevent the devastation that may ensue as the carp encroach upon the Great Lakes. However, current solutions to maintain these ecosystems are inherently unethical. Human response to the carp invasion reveals how ecological decision making influenced by human-centric environmentalist ethics is unsuitable when dealing with man-made problems. Instead, humans must consider what ethical obligations they have to protect the environment and repair damage done to the US waterway system.