From the Editor

Dear VCE readers, 

Engineers are tasked with finding solutions and conceiving new means of interacting with the world. Embedded within these tasks is an inherent responsibility for engineers to consider the ripple effects of their work, and, depending on how an engineer decides to embrace this responsibility, that work may inspire societal growth or instill deeper divides. 

So, as we navigate the intricate landscape of technological advancements and innovation, the importance of ethical decision-making continues to be paramount. Shaping the moral fabric of society is often accomplished through meaningful conversations where ethicality and accountability are upheld as key principles. With these reflections, I am pleased to introduce the work of five authors whose words embody such principles. Volume 7 Issue 2 is a collection of thoughtful critiques from USC engineering students who recognize the significance of the tasks engineers choose to accept and the ways these ventures affect our world. 

This issue begins outside Earth’s atmosphere, where technological advancement exceeds the pace at which legislation and mainstream ethical dialogues adapt. Rachel Pak and Anisha Palaparthi tackle space from two important angles. Pak authored an informative piece that questions the ethicality of satellite surveillance technology. She dives into the dangers to personal privacy and national security that this rapidly evolving technology poses and deems current earth-bound legislation insufficient to regulate them. Pak declares that the best path forward is to implore engineers to operate within ethical boundaries when developing these satellites. Palaparthi discusses the ethical concerns of the private space race, where private companies have begun transitioning to new ideologies. Once viewed as a way to improve life on Earth, space travel is being restructured by private companies that wish to create independent economic models upon which they can capitalize. Palaparthi centers her discussion on the monetary incentives for private space travel and calls on engineers to consider the ethics of the technology they are asked to build.  

Back on Earth, digital technologies remain at the forefront of many ethical concerns as they increasingly interleave our day-to-day lives. Mary Karapetyan dives into the digital dilemma of data sharing by highlighting the privacy concerns that users face. Through a qualitative analysis of data ethics, Karapetyan discusses the importance of corporate accountability and users’ rights while reminding the reader of what is at stake. On the heels of cryptocurrency’s latest resurgence, Simon Lewis provides the reader with an in-depth history of crypto technology while critiquing its development and usage through ethical frameworks. He highlights the environmental, societal, and financial damages stemming from this critically underregulated industry, concluding that it is non-inclusive, harmful, and in need of significant reform. Finally, Navneeth Suresh reminds readers that entertainment technology can be untrustworthy, often capitalizing on its ability to influence users. Suresh discusses the world of freemium gaming – an ethically ambiguous landscape of free-to-play video games that entice players to spend real-world money. By introducing various freemium game models, Suresh dissects the often predatory techniques game developers employ and assesses their ethicality.

As emerging engineers, Viterbi students recognize the far-reaching impact their work will have on society. Whether developing technology that will orbit our world or simply bring us some respite inside of it, every decision we make counts. So, as Editor-in-Chief, I am proud to present the five thoughtful, resolute voices of this issue. I hope they will inspire brave new perspectives for our readers. 

Jackie Finnemeyer, VCE Editor-in-Chief

  • Eyes in the Sky: Ethical Considerations of Commercial Satellite Surveillance
    Satellite data is an indispensable resource that now constitutes a large portion of the commercial world in the United States. However, as satellite technology improves, the collection and distribution of high-quality data poses a threat to national security and personal privacy. Further, the nature of international space legislation leaves the U.S. vulnerable to collect and distribute threatening data. This calls the ethics of satellite surveillance into question. Engineers, the last barrier between companies and increasingly detailed data, must step up and consider the ethics of further developing satellite capabilities.
  • Lost in Space: The Ethics of the Private Space Race
    Space exploration has long been an important mission for humanity, one that has seen immense progress in recent years due, in part, to the growth of the private space industry. Private corporations have made significant progress in space travel and technology and have laid the groundwork for a “space-for-space” economy: a new economic paradigm detached from existing markets that serves life in space rather than focusing efforts on improving life on Earth. The role of private enterprises calls into question the ethical considerations of granting corporations access to the vast resources of space and implores us as engineers to define ethical standards to balance technological innovation with societal progress.
  • Ethics of Data Sharing and Digital Privacy 
    In today’s connected world, data has become an integral part of driving innovation, shaping the way people interact with the digital world. However, concerns surrounding data privacy have also emerged as a crucial challenge faced in the digital age. Data engineers, corporations, and governmental organizations need to take responsibility for safeguarding data and protecting user privacy, especially as the exchange of personal information becomes more prevalent. It is important to understand the components of data ethics and the current legal and ethical frameworks for data sharing, as well as case studies, such as the 2023 MGM Casino Cyberattack, to find potential resolutions for this issue.
  • Balancing the Ledger: A Critical Examination of Cryptocurrency Ethics
    Despite a significant drop in interest surrounding cryptocurrency technology recently, techno futurists continue to center their claims and justifications around a promised future of decentralized control, security, and transparency. This paper examines the ethical implications of the technology in the context of such promises. It challenges the optimistic narrative by discussing the often-ignored consequences that cryptocurrencies impose on various parts of society, particularly those who are already marginalized. The exploration delves into issues such as the digital divide, the inherent volatility and unpredictability of cryptocurrencies, and their ecological footprint, disputing claims that the benefits outweigh the harms.
  • How Free is Freemium? An Analysis of the Ethics of the Freemium Model in Video Games
    The freemium game model has seen many variations throughout the evolution of the gaming industry. This paper explores the many forms that freemium models have taken, analyzing the practices employed by developers to monetize their games. The ethical implications of these practices will be examined, focusing on the impact of these practices on player experience, fairness, and the overall health of the gaming community.