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Ethics: The Little Things Matter. (Based on the work of) Harishwaran ‘Hari’ Hariharan ECE 400 The University of Tennessee August 26 th , 2012. General Definition of Ethics. The study of the characteristics of morals

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ethics the little things matter

Ethics: The Little Things Matter

(Based on the work of)

Harishwaran ‘Hari’ Hariharan

ECE 400

The University of Tennessee

August 26th, 2012

general definition of ethics
General Definition of Ethics
  • The study of the characteristics of morals
  • The study of the moral choices made by each person in his/her relationships with other people

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definition of character
Definition of Character
  • Character is ethics in action.
  • Character is not reflected by what we say, or even by what we intend, it is a reflection of what we do.
  • Character is who you are and what you do when no one is looking.

Eddie Haskell from “Leave It To Beaver”

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philosophy ethics
Philosophy - Ethics
  • Kant’s Categorical Imperative
    • "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." 
  • Hedonism
    • Acting to maximize pleasure and minimize pain 
  • Jesus
    • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
  • Objectivism
    • The Virtue of Selfishness – Ayn Rand

Photo Courtesy: Remember the Golden Rule (1971), by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart

ethical issues faced by engineers
Ethical Issues Faced by Engineers
  • Public Safety
  • Bribery and Fraud
  • Environmental Protection
  • Fairness
  • Honesty in Research and Testing
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Workplace and Work Ethics

Challenger O-Ring Failure, 1986

Tacoma Narrows

Bridge, 1940

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roger boisjoly
Roger Boisjoly

I would encourage each of you to visit the above site and follow through the ethics questions that faced Biosjoly.

ieee code of ethics
IEEE Code of Ethics
  • to accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;
  • to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist;
  • to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data;  
  • to reject bribery in all its forms;  
ieee code of ethics1
IEEE Code of Ethics
  • to improve the understanding of technology; its appropriate application, and potential consequences;  
  • to maintain and improve our technical competence and to undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified by training or experience, or after full disclosure of pertinent limitations;  
  • to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;  
ieee code of ethics2
IEEE Code of Ethics
  • to treat fairly all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion, gender, disability, age, or national origin;  
  • to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action;  
  • to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics.
  • Before acting, know the consequences
    • Know the standards and policies at your company/job
    • Pros/Cons to action vs. inaction
    • Consequences to yourself vs. others
  • Obligation to act ethically depends on consequences (scope of issue)
    • Is there money at stake? Who’s money is it?
    • Is there a potential for others to be harmed or killed?
    • Do you put yourself at risk for potential lawsuits or prosecution for acting one way or another?
  • Make records of important ethical decisions
    • Protect yourself from litigation or loss of job
    • Monitor your ethical decisions to ensure that you are “on the right track”
classroom ethics
Classroom Ethics
  • Solution manuals
  • Fudging numbers
  • Unexcused absences
office ethics
Office Ethics
  • Surfing the net
  • Travel reimbursement
  • Lying on your resume
  • Little things count
surfing the net
Surfing the Net
  • After a complaint, a manager in the division you lead suspended an employee for surfing pornography sites on the Internet, but you have been made aware that there was a generally permissive atmosphere in the department and that other managers have looked at similar websites without being disciplined. Do you intervene on behalf of the employee?
  • Personal email at work?
  • Passing joke emails at work?
  • Chat programs while at work?
  • Be careful what you put in an email as it quickly finds its way beyond the initial recipients.
travel reimbursement
Travel Reimbursement

You are an employee of Enginerds-R-Us, Inc.. You have been employed here for 5 months and enjoy your job very much. The job involves about 40% travel, and there are 9 others with a similar job responsibility and report to the same supervisor. One day, your supervisor calls you into his/her office and says the following:

“I am very happy with your performance during the 5 months you have worked here. I get good reports from all of the people you work with but I do have one problem.”

At this point your supervisor hands you the four travel reimbursement requests which you submitted earlier that day.

“The problem is that your travel expenses are out of line with all of the other staff at your level. In fact, your requests are averaging 25% lower than everybody else. If I send them forward, I will create problems for the entire division. I would like you to bring your requests in line with those of your colleagues and see to it that your future requests also stay in line with the others.”

What would you do?

the little things
“Little white lies” you don't (or do) tell.

Jokes you share with others.

Way you treat and talk about co-workers.

E-mails you write and forward to others.

What you put on your billing sheets, time sheets, and expense reports.

Office supplies you don't (or do) take home.

Personal business you don't (or do) conduct at work.

“Unimportant” work rules you follow (or break).

Things you reproduce on the copy machine.

Level of quality you put into whatever you do.

Credit you appropriately share (or don't share) with others.

The Little Things…

Respect takes a lifetime to earn, but only a split second to lose.

unlicensed software or sdks
Unlicensed Software or SDKs

Jim Warren was a senior software systems expert, hired by NewSoft, a start-up company, to help in the development of a new product. He soon learned that the product was based on proprietary software for which NewSoft did not have a license. Jim assumed that this was some sort of mistake and spoke to the company president about the matter. He was assured that the situation would be rectified. But time passed and nothing happened.

What would you do?

using company resources
Using Company Resources

XYZ Corporation permits its employees to borrow company tools. Engineer Al House took full advantage of this privilege. He went one step further and ordered tools for his unit that would be useful for his home building projects even though they were of no significant use to his unit at XYZ. Engineer Michael Green had suspected for some time that Al was ordering tools for personal rather than company use, but he had no unambiguous evidence until he overheard a revealing conversation between Al and Bob Deal, a contract salesman from whom Al frequently purchased tools.

Michael was reluctant to directly confront Al. They had never gotten along well, and Al was a senior engineer who wielded a great deal of power over Michael in their unit. Michael was also reluctant to discuss the matter with the chief engineer of their unit, in whom he had little confidence or trust.

using company resources continued
Using Company Resources (Continued)

Eventually Michael decided to talk with the Contract Procurement Agent, whose immediate response was, "This really stinks." The Contract Procurement Agent agreed not to reveal that Michael had talked with him. He then called the chief engineer, indicating only that a reliable source had informed him about Al House's inappropriate purchases. In turn, the chief engineer confronted Al. Finally, Al House directly confronted each of the engineers in his unit he thought might have "ratted" on him. When Al questioned Michael, Michael denied any knowledge of what took place.

Later Michael explained to his wife, "I was forced to lie. I told Al, 'I don't know anything about this'."

Discuss ethical issues.

the case of good causes
The Case of Good Causes

Dan Malone volunteers as a mentor with an area high school robotics team. He devotes extensive off-duty time to the team, which has many low-income students from an inner-city high school. Dan’s program has made a difference in many students lives who would have never been exposed to engineering, and as his group leader, you have supported his efforts.

Now, Dan has come to you with a request that you approve the robotics team meeting at your companies engineering facilities (ORNL?) for the final phase of their work. The team’s high school has made a last minute decision to not let the students use high school facilities after hours, as a budget saving measure. Without facilities, the robotics team will be unable to meet their deadline in two weeks.

the case of good causes continued
The Case of Good Causes (Continued)

Your division leader is away in Europe on vacation and unavailable for advice or approval. You reflect that he has been cracking down on the misuse of government facilities, especially when misuse may have an associated price tag. Dan’s efforts are strictly private and off-duty.

Dan Malone has emphasized that team has a strict deadline and the facilities availability will make or break his teams efforts for this year. Dan asks, “Will you sign off on this for me? For the kids?”

How would you answer?

owning up to a failure
Owning up to a Failure

R&M Machinery had for years provided XYZ with sophisticated equipment and reliable repair service. XYZ returned a failed piece of equipment. A meeting was held which included Archie Hunter, a representative from XYZ, Norm Nash, R&M's returned goods area representative, and, Walt Winters, an R&M engineer intimately acquainted with the kind of equipment XYZ had returned.

Norm Nash represented R&M's "official position": the piece of equipment is all right. However, during the course of the meeting it becomes apparent to Walt Winters that the problem has to be R&M's. He suspects that the equipment was not properly tested out by R&M, and that it failed because of an internal problem.

Should Walt say anything about this in the presence of the customer, or should he wait until after the meeting to discuss this with Norm Nash?

owning up to a failure continued
Owning up to a Failure(Continued)

Walt keeps silent during the meeting. After the meeting he talks with Norm about his diagnosis. He suggests they tell XYZ that the problem is R&M's fault, and that R&M will replace the defective equipment. Norm replies, "I don't think it's wise to acknowledge that it's our fault. There's no need to hang out our wash and lessen XYZ's confidence in the quality of our work. A 'good will' gesture to replace the equipment should suffice."

R&M management decides to tell XYZ that they will adjust to the customer's needs "because you have been such a good customer all these years." Although R&M replaces the equipment at its own exprense, it does not tell XYZ the real nature of the problem.

Discuss R&M resolution of the problem. Should R&M's way of handling the problem be of any concern to Walt Winters at this point, or is it basically a "management problem"?

computer encryption software
Computer Encryption Software

Greg is a recently hired software engineer who has been recruited directly out of college. For his first assignment, Greg's boss asked him to write a piece of software to provide some sort of security from "prying eyes" over emailed documents; these documents would be used internally by the company. This software will subsequently be distributed to different departments.

Upon completion of his software project, Greg saw a program on the local news about an individual in California who has made similar software available overseas. This individual is currently under prosecution in a federal court for the distribution of algorithms and information which (by law) must remain within the United States for purposes of national security.

It occurs to Greg that his company is a multinational corporation (MNC) and that the software might have been distributed overseas.

computer encryption software continued
Computer Encryption Software (Continued)

Greg discovers that the software has indeed been sent overseas to other offices within the corporation. Greg speaks with his boss, informing him of the program from the night before. Greg's boss shrugs off this comment, stating that "The company is based in the United States and we are certainly no threat to national security in any way. Besides, there's no way anyone will find out about software we use internally."

Greg agreed with his boss, and let it go. Later on however, Greg received a letter from a gentleman working as a contractor for his company overseas. Through some correspondence regarding the functionality of the software and technical matters, Greg learned the Middle Eastern office had been supplying his software outside the company to contractors and clients so that they could exchange secure emailed documents.

therac 25

The Therac-25, a computerized radiation therapy machine, massively overdosed patients at least six times between June 1985 and January 1987. Each overdose was several times the normal therapeutic dose and resulted in the patient's severe injury or even death. Overdoses, although they sometimes involved operator error, occurred primarily because of errors in the Therac-25's software and because the manufacturer did not follow proper software engineering practices.

Overconfidence in the ability of software to ensure the safety of the Therac-25 was an important factor which led to the accidents. The Therac-20, a predecessor of the Therac-25, employed independent protective circuits and mechanical interlocks to protect against overdose. The Therac-25 relied more heavily on software. Moreoever, when the manufacturer started receiving accident reports, it, unable to reproduce the accidents, assumed hardware faults, implemented minor fixes, and then declared that the machine's safety had improved by several orders of magnitude.

therac 25 continued
Therac-25 (Continued)

The design of the software was itself unsafe. The Therac-25 supported a multitasking environment, and the software allowed concurrent access to shared data. This precarious implementation caused program failure under certain conditions.

Risk assessments were, from the start, unrealistic. A risk assessment performed by the manufacturer seems to consider only hardware failures as it lists the possibilities of the computer selecting the wrong energy or mode as 1e-11 and 4e-9 respectively. Justification never appears for these numbers, but, more surprisingly, the company accepted this low risk assessment easily.

therac 25 continued1
Therac-25 (Continued)

Follow-through on accident reports was unacceptable. After one accident, the manufacturer tried to reproduce the condition which occurred at the treatment. When it could not, it concluded that a hardware error caused the accident, and implemented a solution based on that assumption. It declared that the system was several orders of magnitude safer, but accidents did not cease.

The Therac-25 incidents demonstrate that several misconceptions in the manufacturer's attitude led to the accidents. Poor software design, overconfidence in the software's abilities, unreasonably low risk assessments, and poor manufacturer response to complaints all contributed to the overdoses. Companies must understand that for safety-critical software design rigorous testing and failure analyses are essential and that trained software engineers, not simply any reasonably experienced engineers, should implement the software design.

  • Definitions of ethics and character were made
  • Ethical issues faced by engineers
  • Certain ethical scenarios were discussed
  • Before acting, know the consequences
  • Obligation to act ethically depends on consequences
  • Make records of important ethical decisions
  • Little things add up
  • Ethics is about protection
    • Protecting the welfare of others
    • Protecting your company and its interests
    • Protecting yourself from major consequences
    • Protecting your reputation
  • Compile a one page report on this presentation
    • Discuss all ethical questions presented in this presentation