EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES AND ETHICAL ISSUES IN ENGINEERING
Papers from a Workshop
October 14–15, 2003
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This workshop and proceedings were funded by Dr. Charles J. Pankow. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Engineering.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
DEBORAH G. JOHNSON (chair),
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
JOHN F. AHEARNE,
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
STEPHANIE J. BIRD,
Science and Engineering Ethics, Cambridge, Massachusetts
WM. A. WULF,
National Academy of Engineering, Washington, D.C.
In both the popular media and the scholarly literature, scientists and engineers, policy makers, and science fiction writers and futurists have paid much attention to new and “emerging” technologies. The emerging technologies (the likely outcomes of promising new lines of research and development) include not only more information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and neurotechnology, but also convergences of these diverse streams of research and development. Whether or not these new technologies develop as projected, the knowledge acquired in their pursuit is likely to have profound effects on the way humans live and think about themselves and the natural world. Separately or combined, info- , nano- , neuro- , and biotechnologies raise compelling, daunting, and unwieldy ethical and social issues. The workshop convened on October 14 and 15, 2003, by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) was an attempt to open a discussion about the implications of emerging technologies for the future.
Engineers play a pivotal role in thinking about and bringing about future technologies. Their expertise and experience are essential to understanding the meaning and implications of new technologies. Engineers are in a unique position to comprehend, assess, and shape these technologies and to inform the public about them. But engineers are generally not experts in addressing the social and ethical implications of technology. Ethicists, humanists, and social scientists are trained to think about social meaning, social practices, and social institutions, but they are generally not equipped to understand technologies, especially new, emerging, and converging technologies. Thus, initiating a meaningful dialogue on the ethical and social issues in emerging technologies requires bringing
together individuals with a wide range of perspectives, including but not limited to engineers and ethicists.
This, then, was the goal of the NAE workshop—to bring together a group of experts in different disciplines to facilitate a discussion based on an accurate understanding of current research and development and fundamental ethical concepts and approaches. The workshop was understood to be a first step, an attempt to “get ahead of the curve” by addressing the ethical and social issues raised by emerging technologies while they are still emerging. Technological development often takes place without public discussion leaving consumers and citizens to react to already developed technologies when they arrive on their doorstep. At that point, whether the new technology is well received, rejected, or greeted with a mixed reaction, it is difficult to move the technology in a new direction. A strong negative reaction may even cause the public to resist future versions of the technology—think of the public reaction to genetically modified foods and nuclear power. A strongly positive reaction may lead the public to cling to a technology that turns out to have serious, negative effects. Think of gasoline-powered automobiles, for example. To avoid these and other pitfalls, it is important that we have a public discussion about emerging technologies while they are still being developed.
NAE’s mission is “to promote the technological welfare of the nation by marshaling the knowledge and insights of eminent members of the engineering profession.” A workshop on the ethical issues surrounding emerging technologies promotes the realization of this mission by involving NAE members in a public discussion of the role of technology in the future of the nation. To facilitate participation by NAE members, the workshop was held immediately after an NAE annual meeting. Other participants included individuals selected from a wide range of fields. Information about the workshop was also broadly publicized, and attendance was free. Although the time between the announcement and the workshop was relatively short, more than 120 individuals attended.
The program was arranged to bring together descriptions of new technologies, the state of the art in engineering ethics, and engineering ethics education. Following the presentations, small group discussions gave participants an opportunity to think through the potentials of new technologies. On the last afternoon of the workshop, the discussion groups and a panel of the workshop organizers presented the most important ideas they had heard during the workshop. This was followed by an open session to discuss next steps.
Throughout the two days of the workshop, the discussions were intense, and passions and enthusiasm ran high. Indeed, there seemed to be few, if any, barriers to interactions among engineers, ethicists, policy makers, academics, and people from the private sector. The discussions were lively and free-flowing. Each participant seemed anxious to express an opinion about what new technologies would mean for our nation and for humanity.
The papers included in this volume appear in the order in which they were
presented at the workshop. The first group introduced new technologies and the ethical issues they raise. The next set of papers focused on the state of the art in engineering ethics. The group then broke up into discussion groups guided by one of two sets of questions:
Your task is to focus on the connections between small-scale technologies, such as nano- and neurotechnologies, and engineering ethics.
Are there important emerging small-scale technologies that were not mentioned in the morning session that are likely to raise significant ethical issues in the future?
What can/should the engineering community, especially engineering organizations, such as NAE and other professional engineering groups, do to ensure that these issues are adequately addressed as these technologies are developed?
Your task is to focus on the connections between large-scale technologies, such as technologies that affect sustainability and resources, and engineering ethics.
Are there emerging technologies that were not mentioned in the morning session that are likely to raise significant ethical issues in the future?
What can/should the engineering community, especially engineering organizations, such as NAE and professional engineering groups, do to ensure that these issues are adequately addressed as these technologies are developed?
On the evening of the first day, participants were shown a film, Incident at Morales: An Engineering Ethics Story, which was produced by the National Institute for Engineering Ethics and the Murdough Center for Engineering Professionalism and College of Engineering of Texas Tech University. The second day began with reports from the breakout groups. These were followed by presentations on ethics in engineering education. The workshop ended with a panel presentation by four members of the workshop planning committee. Each panelist presented a summary of important ideas that had been raised during the workshop. The open discussion that followed focused on messages to take home and the next steps.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this discussion was the easy exchange of ideas among such a diverse group. Indeed, there seemed to be a strong consensus about the importance of the issues and the value of engineers and ethicists talking to one another. One of the ideas for a next step was for more forums of this kind and more opportunities for engineers and ethicists to talk and work together.
Other ideas for next steps included: the creation of an NAE engineering ethics center; the inclusion of ethicists on NAE committees; changes in the engineering education curriculum; and making sure that resources are available on the Web.
Many of the comments related to the challenges ahead. These included: “invisibility” of many new technologies; the “messiness” of deciding when a product is good enough; the need for engineering ethics to focus more on macroethical issues, rather than microethical or individual ethical issues; the need for engineers to pay more attention to public expectations; the importance of including underrepresented groups in deliberations about the kind of world we are making; and the role of insurance companies in the products based on new technologies.
Deborah G. Johnson
Chair, Organizing Committee
Engineering and Ethics for an Anthropogenic Planet
E3: Energy, Engineering, and Ethics
Methodologies for Case Studies in Engineering Ethics
Responsibility and Creativity in Engineering
Microethics, Macroethics, and Professional Engineering Societies