Assignment 7 – Privacy Reflection

For our final assignment we were asked to discuss the issue of privacy and such concerns as the issues engineers need to consider, the responsibilities companies such as google have to the public, dilemmas Google engineers might face if pressurised by shareholders to increase profits and the privacy issues that might arise if Google bought Facebook.

Individual (What did you know about this issue before?)

I was aware that online privacy was becoming an important issue for more and more people feel as though their privacy is being infringed upon by companies such as Google. I was also aware that for any searches we make online using Google they can record the cookie ID, IP address and via you IP address they can figure out exactly where you live and even have satellite images of your home via Google Earth. I was also aware that social networks such as Facebook have their default profiles set to public so that anyone can view and pictures or posts your may have made and many employers have used this as a tool when decided whether or not to hire a potential employee. What I wasn’t aware of was the Google had the ability to read our emails and has plans to add medical records, location-aware services and could soon, if they were so inclined could soon compile dossiers on specific individuals.

Contextual (Why is knowledge of this issue important for an engineer?)

This issue is clearly important to the engineer, it is likely that engineers will be the people with vast access to this personal information and must act appopietly and responsibility with such information as the issue of privacy is covered in the code of ethics,  the code of ethics states that engineers shall not give out any confidential information regarding the business affairs, technical processes or financial standing of their clients or employers without their consent.

Relational (What did you learn from this problem?)

From this case study I’ve learnt that Engineers have a very important role in ensuring that a clients’s private information isn’t disclosed without the clients consent. I’ve learnt that companies such as Google are even more powerful than I originally thought and have a worryingly vast degree of access to information many users would not be comfortable disclosing, I was unaware that Google had access to any email that was sent or received via Gmail and was quite surprised and this degree of access to user information is only likely to increase even more with time. Google are continually expanding they have already acquired YouTube and if they were to acquire Facebook which is currently the most popular online social networking site then Google would have the means to harvest even more personal information about users, which it can then leverage to sell more advertising at higher prices.

4. Developmental (How will I take this learning forward? What specific things will I do in the future based on what I’ve learned?)

From a engineering perspective I intend to keep the code of ethics in mind if I find myself in a situation where I have access to information that people would not wish to be disclosed and also to be aware of these ethics if asked to take part in a project that develops a piece of software that can be used to exploit this information against the users consent for personal gain or any other kind of unethical motivation. From a personal perspective I intend to ensure I do not disclose any information online that I wouldn’t be willing to share with potential employers or the the public in general.

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Assignment 6 – Conflicting Ethics and Values Reflection

For this assignment we were asked to discuss the use of human corpses as crash test dummies. It is a topic which can cause conflict as it is a sensitive subject for some people and people’s opinions on it are bound to vary as people in general have different beliefs, morals, religion etc. Some people may see no problem at all in using human corpses, some may not feel comfortable doing it but believe it is for the greater good so are in favor of it whilst there may also be some who believe it is morally wrong and shouldn’t be carried about despite the benefits it may bring. It’s obvious that we need to find a common ground on this particular topic where everyone’s opinion is respected and if possible find a solution that satisfies each person’s concerns.

Individual (What did you know about this issue before?)

Before commencing this assignment I wasn’t actually aware that human cadavers were used as crash test dummies but I wasn’t surprised by it either as I was aware that people donate their bodies to science and this seems as good a scientific use as any for human corpses. I was aware that ethics and values easily could conflict when dealing with a sensitive issue such as this, there will always be controversial issues where there is no clear right or wrong answer that everyone can agree with, topics such as abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, capital punishment are all issues that can cause a lot of division and a conflict between people’s different set of morals and  their own code of ethics. These are problems that can’t simply be solved by adhering to the code of ethics as these type of issues will have a conflict of ethics no matter which side of the fence you stand on and its up to the individual to weigh up the pro’s and con’s from an ethical point of view and decide which is the lesser of two evils.

Contextual (Why is knowledge of this issue important for an engineer?)

This is an important issue for an engineer because it is a problem that they are likely to encounter given the nature of their job being on the forefront of emerging technologies which often bring new ethical dilemma’s with them. In this particular case I feel that the ends of doing such testing justify the means, particularly since these people willingly donated their bodies to science and this seems as good a scientific reason as any given the benefits that can be gained from it but I can certainly under why some people may have a problem with it. Respect for the dead is a trait most humans posses and it isn’t just confined to certain cultures, mourning the dead has even been observed in the animal kingdom  where elephants have been observed paying homage to the bones of their dead, gently touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet and have even been known to congregate at elephant cemeteries, drawn by the bones of their kin. It is important for engineers to respect the values of the colleagues that they are working with and whilst I believe the overall benefits from such testing are too  great to give up on, I do believe some common ground must be sought.

Relational (What did you learn from this problem?)

I’ve learnt that even when people are looking at the same problem and analyzing the same data that different values can lead to different conclusions and different ethical theories and can sometimes lead to different outcomes. On further investigation into human cadaver testing I found that cadavers are essential for improving car safety and reducing fatalities and injuries. Regular crash test dummies are very good about showing how much force impacts a body during an accident. What they can’t do is show how much force a human body can reasonably expect to take without getting injured. If actual humans weren’t crash test dummies, scientists wouldn’t have data to judge the forces in a crash as safe or unsafe. Unfortunately cadavers are necessary to get a real sense of how new technologies such as the inflatable belt would affect internal organs and tissues. On this issue I’d agree with the utilitarianism theory(choose the option with the greatest nett good even if some harm is done) and feel it would be immoral and irresponsible to abandon cadaver testing when it can save many lives just because it makes some people uncomfortable with it however we should respect the wishes of people who don’t wish to take part in it for their own moral reasons.

Developmental (What specific things will you do with this learning?)

I think this assignment was a great example of how conflicting ethics and values can occur in the workplace even when looking at the same problem and  analyzing the same data. I’ve seen further evidence that there are many situations that can’t be solved simply be solved by adhering to the code of ethics and this is why critical thinking s so important. I hope as a future engineer I will be capable of consider how certain actions may conflict with certain peoples code of ethics and will strive to find some common ground if possible.

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Assignment 5 – Reflection

1. Individual (What did I know about emerging technologies, engineering and ethics before this?)

My understanding of emerging technologies was that emerging technologies was the development of a new type of technology and that engineers are always the ones on the forefront of emerging technology. I’ve always found emerging technologies a very interesting subject and have aways been curious as to what the next big technological breakthrough will be. Many of the current emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, stem cell research, nano technology and robot soldiers come with an ethical dilemma.

2. Contextual (Why is it important for an engineer to consider ethics when involved in emerging technologies?)

It is important for an engineer to consider ethics of any emerging technology because it is quite often the case that these new technologies will raise ethical dilemma’s that our current laws won’t account for because we haven’t encountered these situations before. In the case of genetic engineering there is the ethical issue of where to draw the line, most people would probably be in favor of using this technology to eliminate hereditary diseases or conditions although some would still have moral objects to this whilst some might be in favor of using this technology for selecting desirable traits in their children. Stem cell research has had its fair share of controversy too especially in the U.S. Nano-technology has a theory that in the distant future when we have the ability to create nano bots that are self replicating and if there were no safeguards in place then these nano-bots could consume everything around, them eventually consuming the whole planet, although this ‘grey goo’ theory is considered far fetched and laughable by many scientists, nevertheless there is nearly always an unquantified risk with any new emerging technology that we as engineers have a duty to consider.

3. Relational (What did I learn from this problem about emerging technologies and ethics?)

I learned the with any emerging technology it is important for engineers to carefully consider the ethical issues that my arise from this technology and confirm that it doesn’t conflict the code of ethics in any way. In this particular problem of Robot Soldiers it was a bit of a grey area. The code of ethics states that members will have proper regard for the welfare and safety of members of society whilst robot soldiers are designed for killing so these robot soldiers will violate the code of ethics (unless they are only used to fight other robot soldiers). On the other hand it can be argued that these robot soldiers will reduce human casualties, at least on the side with the technology. Some of the arguments in favor of robot soldiers are, replacing humans for dangerous missions such as climbing through caves, detecting land mines etc.

A robot doesn’t fear for its own safety, doesn’t panic or hold any grudges. It can be argued that robot soldiers, unlike human soldiers would not be able to commit war crimes. A 2006 survey in a Pentagon report (compiled by the Mental Health Advisory Team) found that more than a third of soldiers and marines serving in Iraq condoned torture, and most did not even believe that all civilians should be treated with dignity. Robot soldiers unlike human soldiers won’t act emotionally and won’t lash out with fear or anger, or react with violence to the death of a colleague.

On the other hand there is a compellingarguments against the use of robot soldiers, such as the fact that computers can never be punished so if something were to go wrong (like a programming or hardware failure) who would be responsible if there is there is no human at the controls? Many Software products today are far from being bug-free, war may be a too serious matter to leave in the hands of an unmanned computer especially when unmanned weapons don’t exactly have a clean track record, there has already being a case where an unmanned anti aircraft gun killed 9 people. Any atrocities could just be passed off as a technical glitch. Designing a robot that can effectively discriminate between friendly, neutral and hostile targets may be quite difficult to implement.

These are just some of the many ethical factors the engineer needs to consider when working with an emerging technology such as this.

4. Developmental (How will I take this learning forward? What specific things will I do in the future based on what I’ve learned?)

From this case study I hope to be able to use critical thinking to evaluate the various ethical concerns that arises when dealing with emerging technology. I hope to be able to evaluate all the various factors and opinions to objectively reach a conclusion on whether or not this new technology will be a benefit to society as a whole.

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Assignment 4 – Reflection

Our fourth assignment was based on the EU RoHS Directive bans the use of lead (among other substances) in electronics. Our group was aruging against the motion that “this house believes that banning the use of lead in solders goes against the principles of sustainable development”. For this assignment we were asked to put our critical thinking into action by weighting up the pro’s and con’s of such a law not just to the Engineers’s but also to consider the bigger picture, the moral issues, environmental issues and the ramifications of such a law to society as a whole.

1) Individual (What did you already know about critical thinking?)

I didn’t know very much about critical thinking before taking this module, as a phrase I had heard the the term ‘Critical Thinking’ quite a bit but had never really considered what it involved before now. This debate helped us to go deeper into the meaning and process involved in critical thinking.

2) Contextual (Why is critical thinking important for an engineer?)

Critical thinking is important for engineers because engineers will often be involved in decisions where they have to weight up both the potential rewards as well as potential pitfalls of a particular decision and be able to use their knowledge and experience and consider multiple perspectives to effectively arrive a conclusion that they consider is the best course of action. Engineers are often dealing with new and emerging technologies and it is important that they abide by the code of ethics and remember their responsibilities to society and the environment and develop technologies in a way as is sustainable to the industry and doesn’t put its users at unnecessary risk.

3) Relational (What did I learn from this exercise about critical thinking?)

I’ve learned that Engineers are expected to view the world through a different lens based on the idea that because they have a greater technical training they should have a greater insight into the potential dangers of engineering products are merely following the law isn’t good enough.

It this particular exercise there was clearly a lot of benefits for engineers to continue to use lead in solder such as not requiring as high a processing temperature as lead-free solder, there is also some evidence of deterioration in the reliability of solder-joints of lead-free solder which can compromise a the reliability of a piece of electronics equipment. These benefits need to be weighted up against the pitfalls of continuing to use lead in solder which are quite numerous. One of the major pitfalls was electronic waste in the developing world.

Electronic waste is a big problem in the developing world, part of the problem is caused by primitive methods of extracting precious metals where insulation is simply burned off producing many toxic chemicals and this problem is set to sky rocket in the next 2 decades as countries such India and China ditch their obsolete hardware. Within 6-8 years the developing world will be disposing of more computers than the developed world and by 2030 they will be disposing of 2-3 times as many, obviously this problem is only going to get worse if restrictions on hazardous substances isn’t introduced. The health effects on workers in these developing countries is very serious, State media estimated almost nine of out 10 of the people in Guiyu suffered from problems with their skin, nervous, respiratory or digestive systems.

As engineers we have a responsibility to society and the environment, we need to be able use critical thinking to evaluate both sides of the argument and decide whether or not benefits  of switching to lead free solder outweigh the problems associated with it.

4) Developmental (How will this learning guide me in the future? What specific things will I do and how will I act?)

I will strive to exercise critical thinking in any situations that may arise in future employment, evaluate all the evidence available, considers the opinions of the people around and to think not just about the short term personal benefits when making a decision but to consider the bigger picture and consider the code of ethics and remember my responsibilities to society, the environment, and the principals of sustainable development.

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Assignment 3 – Reflection

Our third assignment was based upon the “competences of an engineer” and the “code of ethics” our analysis of our groups approach during the Carter Racing Case Study and the group dynamics that occurred leading up to the Challenger Disaster. Each group was initially given the Carter Racing Case Study and was required to make a decision to race or not to race based on the information that was available to us. The decision our group reached was to race, three of our group was in favour of racing whilst one was sitting on the fence before eventually decided to also race. One of the area’s we fell down was failing to properly analyse the data sheets that related to the effect of temperature on blown gaskets, we disregarded this critical piece of information for a couple of reasons such as time constraints,  not being able to see a pattern on the data sheets that would suggest temperature was an issue, another reason was because the chief mechanic felt that temperature had no effect on blown gaskets and had data sheets to back up his argument whilst the engine mechanic who felt temperature was an issue only had a gut feeling.

If the blown gaskets in the Carter race case had being truly random and not related to ambient temperature as the chief mechanic had indicated then I feel the decision to race purely from a financial point of view would have been correct. I made my decision based on the expected value for each outcome, i.e. for each scenario I calculated the potential profit/loss and multiplied it by the probability of that particular outcome, I calculated each outcome for the decision to race as follows:

  1. 50% chance of finishing in top 5, potential profit = $1,500,000, EV = $750,000.
  2. 12.5% chance of finishing outside of money, potential profit = $500,000, EV = $62,500.
  3. 30% Blown gasket, potential loss = -$20,000, EV = -$6,000
  4. 7.5% not blowing a gasket or finishing in top 5, potential profit = $500,000, EV = $37,500.

The total Expected value for racing was calculated as $811,500. We calculated the EV of not racing as $450,000 so on average we calculated that the decision to race was $361,500 more profitable, so purely from a probability point of view and not an ethical point of view the decision to race would be more profitable if the engine failure was not related to ambient temperature. However, since it turned out that ambient temperature played a huge part on the likelihood for engine failure the actual chances of finishing the race was very remote and the decision to race was wrong not only from an ethical point of view but clearly from a financial point of view too when this crucial piece of data is included.

There were many similarities between this case study and the Challenger disaster. Like the Carter case study ambient temperature played a very import role. The Challenger disaster was called by a failure in the O ring seal, at low temperature the O ring seal took longer to seal at lower temperature which increased the chances of failure. Similar to how how the engine mechanic in the Carter race case suspected that engine failure was related to low temperatures, in the Challenger disaster Roger Boisjoly warned Morton Thiokol about a possible O-rings failure and advised them not to launch if the temperature was below 53 Fahrenheit.

This project required us to research the ‘Compencies of the Enginner’ as well as the ‘Code of Ethics’ before researching this material I had little knowledge about the these responsibilities and how they relate to the engineer, I based my decision to race purely on financial concerns but didn’t properly consider the full ramifications of failure such as a loss would have completely ruined us and everyone involved and that the decision to race was clearly an irresponsible one. Seeing the consequences of what can happen as in the case of the Challenger disaster really illustrated to me what can happen if engineers fail to act in a responsible manner. Whilst the ramifications of failure for the Carter Race Case and the Challenger incident are very different, both demonstrate how important it is for an engineer to not just follow the law but to act in responsible manner at all times.

On a personal level I was disappointed with my own performance as a presenter, on my previous presentation one of the criticisms of my presentation was that there was too much text on the slides so I attempted to remedy that this time by only providing short points on the slides and elaborating on them. Unfortunately when it came time for the presentation I had a bit of a mental block and forgot some of the material I had intended to elaborate on, I feel this was partially down to nerves as I had rehearsed the material earlier but perhaps more rehearsal and practice is needed.

I found this to be a challenging assignment but also a rewarding one, the Carter Race Case for me demonstrated just how easy it is to lose focus of what is really important and make the wrong decisions if you don’t abide by the competencies of the engineer or the code of ethics. Another area I think we could improve upon when it comes to group dynamics is to assign a devils advocate, in our group we didn’t have anyone arguing in favour of not racing so none of our arguments or assumptions had been challenged, in the future I hope we can provide a more balanced argument.

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Assignment 2 (Teams) – Reflection

On Wednesday of week 4 the class went on a field trip to Lough Derg in Killaloe where we spent the afternoon at the UL Activity Centre. We were split into three teams of eight or nine members each and  were giving a choice of challenges to perform in which we would be competing against the other teams.

Our first challenge was to create a square from various pieces of wood, this challenge was more difficult than it first appeared, we were required to use all the pieces within a certain time limit. At first we were a bit disorganized as most of the people in our group wanted a go and had their own idea’s about how best to proceed but after a while we learned to how to work together and just allow one person at a time to try piece the square together whilst the rest of he group offered advice.

The next challenge involved two long planks of wood, one plank was attached to each members left foot whilst the other plank was attached to each members right foot and the idea was to walk in unison through a series of obstacles whilst not allowing any rope or foot to touch the ground. This particular challenge involved timing, coordination and cooperation. After an initial few slip ups we got the hang of it and completed the task on time, I felt this was a simple yet effective way of demonstrating the importance of teamwork, it required all team members working together because even if one person wasn’t working as a team the task would have been impossible.

We had a few more of these type of challenges which taught us about the importance of planning, co-operation, motivation, support and determination. We finished the day with the high ropes course which consists of  a series of physical challenges which also tested teamwork skills.

Overall I taught it was an enjoyable day out and also demonstrated the importance of teamwork and how groups are particularly good at combining talents and providing solutions to unfamiliar problems, that the wide range of skill and knowledge of the group has an advantage over that of the individual, all of which is relevant to the role of teams in engineering

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Assignment 1 – Reflection

Our first presentation consisted of each member of the class giving a presentation on a topic of their choice. The topic I chose for this presentation was lie detectors. I chose this topic because I saw an interesting program recently about the science and controversy behind lie detectors and I was curious to learn more so did a little research on the topic because I though it would be an interesting topic for discussion.   

I have giving a couple of presentations at college in the past but I’m still fairly inexperienced when it actually comes to public speaking and it is definitely an area with a lot of room for improvement.  

Presentation skills are useful in most professions but they are a particularly important skill for Engineers. These skills allow you to demonstrate to your boss/colleagues such attributes as decisive planning and leadership. It is very important for an Engineer to be able to get their ideas across to an audience in a clear and concise manner in order to get the necessary resources and support that they will need.  

Overall I felt this was a good learning experience for me, the feedback I received was very useful. Some of the area’s I need to improve on are reducing the about of text on each slide, more tidy slides. I think I probably came across as nervous which I wasn’t really expecting as I hadn’t being nervous leading up to the presentation I think I could have maintained more eye contact with the audience and generally engaged more with the audience.  

In the future I hope to learn from these mistakes, I will try to use more bullet points rather that a lot of text, get more practice with Powerpoint to improve the layout of the slides and a better summary. I also need to rehearse more, I did a few rehearsals mentally but this isn’t the same as actually saying it out loud in front of someone or even in front of a mirror which will hopefully lead to me being more comfortable talking about the topic and engaging more with the audience. I am confident that with practice I can improve upon these area’s.  









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