Final Essay Assignment: Artifacts, Engineering, and Ethics.
Our world is filled with artifactsâ€”roughly things that donâ€™t grow on their own, not even in our gardens, but things that we create, for a great variety of purposes. Buildings, sidewalks, streets, automobiles, wastebaskets, garden tools, doorstops, cell phones, toothpicks, and so on. Sooner or later, the story of how such artifacts come into our world includes something about engineers and engineering practice. To illustrate what I have in mind, consider the wastebasket I might use to prop open the door to a classroom when nothing specifically designed to be a doorstop is available. Or consider locks on doors to classrooms, motel rooms, and the like that require the use plastic cards and special codes in order to open these doors. Or consider a package with two rubber doorstops wrapped inside see-through plastic and cardboard. (Why are there two such doorstops in the package, rather than one, or three? Why are they in a package at all?) At some time, somewhere, engineers had something to contribute to the design, manufacture, and packaging of little doorstops like one I could purchase to replace the wastebasket I might otherwise use to prop open the classroom door.
Artifacts like these are all around us. We can hold some of them in our hands, lift them up easily, move them from place to place, and so on. Other artifacts are too large and heavy for us lifted or move by ourselves, at least. Buildings are like that. And automobiles, too. We can drive them to all kinds of places, with passengers coming along for the ride. Cell phones and I-Phones are artifactsâ€”and they can be taken with us when we drive or ride in automobiles. Automobiles are often described as â€œI-Phone friendlyâ€. This may pose serious problems for I-Phone users, especially when they use them while driving their automobiles. This can make drivers more dangerous on the road than drunk drivers are. These risks (and benefits) can give us pause for ethical reflection. What kinds of questions should engineers be addressing when they design artifacts for public or commercial use? Do at least some of these questions have ethical dimensions?
Your final essay assignment is to select at least one artifactâ€”an actual, particular object in our world (for example, this golf club, tennis ball, automobile, airplane, building, roundabout, stoplight, or interstate highway). In, roughly, 400-600 words, say something about the likely history of your artifactâ€”making as clear as you can how you think that engineering might be part of the story of your artifact. (Please be sure to cite any sources that have helped you tell the story of your artifact.) Discuss how the story of this artifact, or at least artifacts like yours, might include some ethical considerations. These considerations can be about either good features of your artifact and its history and likely future, or bad features of its history and likely future.
In other words, let your artifact introduce both you and your reader to the subject of this course, â€œengineering ethicsâ€. You might or might not find it useful to use words like â€˜ethicalâ€™, â€˜moralâ€™, â€˜immoralâ€™, â€˜unethicalâ€™, and the like in your account. However, whatever words you use, do your best to make sure that readers will recognize that, in part, your story is about both engineering and ethicsâ€”working together.