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Engineering’s Impact on Society. Stanley M. Howard, PhD, PE Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Rapid City, SD. Acknowledgement.

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Engineering’s Impact on Society

Stanley M. Howard, PhD, PE

Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Rapid City, SD

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Dr. Harold SternAssociate ProfessorCommunications & ControlsUniversity of AlabamaEmail: [email protected]

For his original Power Point work on which this presentation is based

Slides with an “*” in the lower right hand corner were patterned directly after his work.

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Engineers Are Action Oriented Action Means Change and

  • Different Segments of Society Have Different Goals and Values

  • Good Intentions Can Produce Unexpected and Unwanted Results

  • Only Six Percent of the Public Are Scientifically Literate

  • Actions Have Unforeseen Scientific, Political, and Social Consequences

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Unforeseen Consequences Classic Example #1

Original Problem:

Soil Erosion

Solution: Introduce Kudzu from Japan

Unintended Consequence:

Overrun with Vines

Killing of Other Vegetation

Power Lines Shorting Out


Southeastern USA Kudzu

Credit: Harold P. E. Stern

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Unforeseen Consequences Classic Example #2

Original Problem:

Manual Labor

Low Productivity

Slow Transportation

Solution: Industrialization

Unintended Consequence:

Air Pollution

Sweat Shops

Urban Problems

Santiago Chile Smog


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Actions have Unforeseen Consequences

Consequences are more likely to be identified when people with varied expertise and perspectives offer input.

Number of People of Varied

Backgrounds Offering Input

Identifying Consequences

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Issues Concerning Openness

  • National Security

  • Competitive Edge

  • Streamline Effort

  • Cut Costs

  • Save Time

  • “What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them”

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When Could Secrecy Appropriately be Maintained?

  • National security restricted by legally authorized government oversight

  • Private activities involving only intellectual property

  • Product and process development with consequences limited to consumer choice

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Group Exercise

Develop a set of specific procedures to

  • Inform society of the tradeoffs

  • Gain society’s prior approval

  • Limit unintended consequences


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When Should the Public be Informed?

Inform the public whenever society could be affected by the proposed project except in cases of simple consumer options or national security authorized by the legally empowered governmental agency.

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Procedures to Limit Unintended Consequences and Gain Public Consent

  • Study similar problems and previous solutions to determine their societal impact

  • Identify technological trends associated with the proposed solution

  • Project possible societal impacts of these trends to limit unintended consequences

  • Research all laws and regulations that may exist concerning a proposed solution

  • Determine the appropriate ways to inform society and achieve an informed consensus


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Resources Available

  • Prior projects

  • Codes and regulations

  • Editorials

  • Case studies


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Resources Available to Identify Trends

  • Codes

  • Phased Implementation of Laws

  • World Initiatives

  • Professional Societies


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Resources Available to Research Laws and Regulations

  • Governmental Agencies

  • Other Designers

  • Patents

  • Professional Societies/Associates/Groups


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Resources Available to Achieve an Informed Consensus

  • Public Meetings

  • Elections

  • Environmental Impact Report (EIR)

  • Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)


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Group Exercise - Analysis

A reporter selected by each group will present their analysis

  • Analyze placement of widespread windmill farms in western South Dakota

  • Analyze the positives and negatives and the intended and unintended consequences

  • Propose societal impact management methods

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Report Format

  • Benefits

  • Negatives

  • Consequences Likely Unforeseen by Many

  • Procedures

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Analysis (cont’d)

  • Benefits

    Clean and Cheap Renewable Power, Small Land Requirements, Economic Stimulation and Options, Low Impact

  • Negatives

    Periodic, No on-demand Supply, Noisy, New Power Grid Needed, Aesthetics, Bird Strikes, Maintenance, Large Land Requirements, More Activity

    Note: The contradictory items offered by a group of engineers. Imagine the contradictions had the group been more diverse. This illustrates the role of values and intangibles.

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Analysis (cont’d)

Possible Unintended Consequences

Need more infrastructure

Adverse affect on current energy-related industry

Displacement of Agri-business

Health effects

Electromagnetic induced cancers

Neurotic cows

Communication disruption

Topsoil loss

Ambience disruption

Wage/living issues

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Analysis (cont’d)


Get more info from other experts

Focus groups, previous projects

Public hearings

Government regulations

Professional standards

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Engineering’s Impact on Society

Seek Input

Embrace the Regulatory Environment as an Valuable Operating Template

Never Violate the Public Good

Use Secrecy only for intellectual rights, simple market-related activities, or government authorized activity