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Why Engineers Must Consider the Ethical Implications of Their Work

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the bad-things-good-uses-vice-versa dept.

Science 406

An anonymous reader writes "An article by Abbas El-Zein at The Guardian explores the ethical responsibilities for engineers who create and maintain 'technologies of violence.' He says, 'Engineers who see themselves as builders of the shelter and infrastructure for human needs also use their expertise in order to destroy and kill more efficiently. When doctors or nurses use their knowledge of anatomy in order to torture or conduct medical experiments on helpless subjects, we are rightly outraged. Why doesn't society seem to apply the same standards to engineers? There is more than one answer to the question of course, but two points are especially pertinent: the common good we engineers see ourselves serving and our relationship to authority. ... Our ethics have become mostly technical: how to design properly, how to not cut corners, how to serve our clients well. We work hard to prevent failure of the systems we build, but only in relation to what these systems are meant to do, rather than the way they might actually be utilised, or whether they should have been built at all. We are not amoral, far from it; it's just that we have steered ourselves into a place where our morality has a smaller scope.'"

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406 comments

Because... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45609939)

They pay us like shit compared to doctors!

Re:Because... (4, Interesting)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 5 months ago | (#45610243)

Playing the devil's advocate, when was the last time you got sued for malpractice for bugs in your code?

Re:Because... (4, Funny)

StripedCow (776465) | about 5 months ago | (#45610301)

Playing the devil's advocate, when was the last time you got sued for malpractice for bugs in your code?

What is wrong with that concept, really?

I've no problem hearing Kaching! every time I get a blue screen.

Re:Because... (2, Insightful)

bberens (965711) | about 5 months ago | (#45610377)

Strictly speaking coders are not engineers. We use that term colloquially but I definitely got the impression that the article was speaking primarily of PEs.

Re:Because... (4, Insightful)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | about 5 months ago | (#45610611)

Strictly speaking coders are not engineers. We use that term colloquially but I definitely got the impression that the article was speaking primarily of PEs.

Very few engineers of any sort are PEs, at least in the US. Whether you are a classical mechanical/electrical engineer, or a coder, seems to be purely a subjective distinction. Some coders I know are definitely engineers, some are not (by my world view).

I think the article applies to any of the above, but the cited examples may be the domain of PEs - which as stated in the article - are not funded at all like corporate engineers, and thus have concerns more relevant to their funding model. Plenty of coders are involved in making missiles, and in fact some distruptive things (like bitcoin) were created by coders. There are huge ramifications to bitcoin, should it become successful: tax evasion, illegal trug trafficking, import/export bypass, etc. All things our government was asked to interfere with, by someone, for some reason, that are bypassed by someone's experiment. You may not support "the war on drugs", but the freely elected government of the US chose to take it on in response to various pressures. There are ethical implications to providing a mechanism to easily bypass this to others.

This topic always comes up, but the bottom line is: if it can be done, someone will do it. The world is not populated by exclusively ethical people, engineers are no different. Having a thing and then choosing not to use it probably causes less actual destruction than not having it at all.

Re:Because... (1)

Meyaht (2729603) | about 5 months ago | (#45610763)

Its tough to say how many engineers shelved their projects for moral reasons, by nature of their decision.

Re:Because... (2)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | about 5 months ago | (#45610879)

Choosing to shelve a project for an ethical principle, for the reason I stated in my last sentence, makes sense only if you think you are uniquely clever and no one else will think of it.

That strikes me as profoundly arrogant. Perhaps a few people in the world at any time are justified in so thinking, but there are plenty of historical examples that suggest even really clever things can be conceived of independently.

A certificate doesn't make an engineer (4, Informative)

sjbe (173966) | about 5 months ago | (#45610759)

Strictly speaking coders are not engineers. We use that term colloquially but I definitely got the impression that the article was speaking primarily of PEs.

Strictly speaking coders are not engineers.

They may or may not have an engineering degree/license but what coders are doing is most assuredly engineering. I'm an industrial engineer by training but I also do work almost daily that could be described as electrical engineering and sometimes mechanical engineering. Just because you don't have a document hanging on the wall saying you are an engineer doesn't mean you aren't one in real life.

We use that term colloquially but I definitely got the impression that the article was speaking primarily of PEs.

There are relatively few PEs compared to the number of engineers out there. Having a PE license doesn't mean you are better at engineering than someone who doesn't have one. The the sort of engineering I do it would have been a complete waste of my time for me to go get a PE license. It simply isn't necessary for many engineers. A PE is only required in certain circumstances and primarily for liability and statutory reasons. (Though it must be said that people with PE licenses tend to be good engineers in my experience)

Re:Because... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 5 months ago | (#45610431)

Playing the devil's advocate, when was the last time you got sued for malpractice for bugs in your code?

SHHHHH! Don't give lawyers ideas!

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610499)

Not just bugs. What about the people who write software that ends up being used maliciously? Or supply stuff to the NSA?

Speaking of advocates (4, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 5 months ago | (#45610521)

Submitter doesn't like humanity very much. He wishes there were laws, rules, regulations, and guide lines for everything. He wants to hold engineers responsible for their discoveries. He wants to judge each discovery as "good" or "bad", then reward or punish the engineers, scientists, and the craftsmen for whatever results.

Sad as it is, I prefer the world we have, in which men and woman exercise free will.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpCASVFyQoE [youtube.com]

Re:Speaking of advocates (0)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 5 months ago | (#45610813)

I prefer the world we have, in which men and woman exercise free will.

Yet somehow I don't have the free will to not hand over my money to private companies because if I don't, the money will be forcibly extracted from my bank account.

Re:Speaking of advocates (1)

EzInKy (115248) | about 5 months ago | (#45610941)

Or he actually does and follows the "your rights end where mine begin" philosophy. I glad we have laws that punish people for harming others.

Re:Because... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 5 months ago | (#45610565)

You don't get sued for it. The company does.

Whenever evil corporation X has done something wrong (left a back-door in their router, put a virus in their game) people want to hold the CEOs personally responsible. It's often questionable if the CEO/VP/directory/manager even knew what was going on. But the engineers sure as heck did.

Re:Because... (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 5 months ago | (#45610615)

I have had an employer go bust and end up with zero unemployment because of a law suit from a project that went bad

Hypocrisy (2)

gnupun (752725) | about 5 months ago | (#45610425)

What about the scientists and generals and governments that worked to design nuclear bombs? Didn't they have any ethics?

Why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45609963)

"I have become death, destroyer of worlds."

Re:Why? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45609989)

The existence of nuclear bombs have saved millions of lives over the last 60 years. Sounds pretty ethical to me.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610131)

"I have become death, destroyer of worlds."

I'm guessing Confucius didn't say that yet I can't help wonder how many people have needlessly suffered splinters wielding chopsticks at his direction.

Already does. (4, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about 5 months ago | (#45609991)

While it is hard to draw exact parallels, society already holds engineers to similar standards to doctors. The outrage over doctors experimenting on helpless test subjects is pretty similar to, say, when engineers use live subjects for testing weapons.

Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (4, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#45610139)

While it is hard to draw exact parallels, society already holds engineers to similar standards to doctors. The outrage over doctors experimenting on helpless test subjects is pretty similar to, say, when engineers use live subjects for testing weapons.

Yeah. The article's author is making a poor analogy. Blaming engineers would be more akin to blaming the scalpel designer for the doctor's experimentation. Its not the scalpel or the gun that is the problem, it is the mind and the intentions behind the hand holding the scalpel or gun. Both can be used for good or bad.

Short of WMD the issue is not as simple as the author suggests.

Re:Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (3, Insightful)

bob_super (3391281) | about 5 months ago | (#45610607)

"when the rockets go up,
who cares where they come down?
it's not my department,
says Wernher Von Braun."

He didn't say that, but that summarizes the lives of thousands of people who make a living designing and building weapons (except a few fanatics who relish the though that their weapons kill $bad_guy)

Re:Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (0)

neoritter (3021561) | about 5 months ago | (#45610767)

Respectfully, I don't think you know what you're talking about. When designing and building weapons you want the weapon to hit where you intend it to hit, if not to prevent civilian casualties then to make sure you kill or disable your target.

Re:Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (4, Interesting)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#45610821)

"when the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? it's not my department, says Wernher Von Braun."

He didn't say that, but that summarizes the lives of thousands of people who make a living designing and building weapons (except a few fanatics who relish the though that their weapons kill $bad_guy)

That summarizes perhaps a small minority who design and build weapons. Lets consider the M1 Garand Rifle of the U.S. Army and Marine Corp. It was designed during peace time in the 1920s and 30s. It was used to destroy the Third Reich in Europe in the 1940s and in the 1960s it was used by some panicked National Guard to kill students at Kent State University in Ohio. Most of the engineers envisioned a use of the "destroy the Third Reich" type, not the students at Kent State type.

Re:Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (2)

TheLink (130905) | about 5 months ago | (#45610695)

But on a related topic I think we really should start seriously considering whether we should postpone certain paths of research instead of just doing things because we can. Too often we are doing things just because the technology is ready. Whether society and laws are ready, doesn't even get a consideration.

For example: the creation of viable human-animal[1] hybrids may be possible in the future. Same goes for certain mixtures of human, cyborg, animals, AIs etc. But if we are not ready to decide whether to give such entities (and which entities) the same rights AND responsibilities AND penalties as humans then we really shouldn't go down these paths yet. e.g. how do we decide that some entity is legally human or not?

There are other nonrelated paths of research but with similar problems of whether we really should do them yet. In many cases the benefit to harm ratio would still be rather low.

It's not like we have infinite resources, and there are plenty of more useful things to do research on. So why not do those first then do the other stuff later once we've figured out how to deal with the issues. It's not like some game where if we screw up, we can restore from a savepoint and do other research/tech paths first.

Researching into giving everyone a tool that could kill everyone else in an instant may be a bad idea if we haven't got to the stage where none of us will use it to kill whether on purpose or by accident. That of course is a big stretch, but supposedly it doesn't take very much money and resources to create a deadly virus that will kill many millions of people.

[1] Yes I know humans are animals too, so if you don't know what I mean by "animal" then you should realize the problem even more.

Re:Already does. (2)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 5 months ago | (#45610359)

I think the point TFA is attempting to make is that engineers should be ethically prohibited from designing weapons at all.

(Or, perhaps more relevantly and/or reasonably, from designing technologies that enable the NSA's unconstitutional spying.)

Re:Already does. (4, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 5 months ago | (#45610629)

Some of us choose not to design weapons. It isn't theoretical. I've turned down job offers that turned out to be essentially for improving ways to kill people.

Some of us choose to design technologies that work against the NSA's unconstitutional spying rather than for it. Again this isn't theoretical. I've been presented with some choices and taking the high road is ultimately easier to live with, even though people don't thank you for it at the time.

The ethical questions for engineers are far, far simpler than those for doctors or politicians. safe good, unsafe bad. Protects people good, exposes people, bad. Kills or injures people, bad, saves people, good.

Maybe in a world with an agressor and no ready defense technology, the moral landscape would look different. But there is no shortage of military technology. I can choose not to add to it. To add to it is immoral. To not add to it is moral.

Re:Already does. (2)

neoritter (3021561) | about 5 months ago | (#45610863)

I fail to see what is inherently immoral or unethical about designing weapons or other technologies for you own country's defense. If you can prevent that missile from landing on an unintended target (civilian) or prevent terrorists from blowing up your fellow citizens, that is also a morally good choice.

Re:Already does. (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#45610701)

That is what I got out of it.

Think of the Engineers and Scientists who made the a-Bomb.
1. Don't help and you will be the reason for a sustained war costing millions of lives of mostly military personnel.
2. Make the A-Bomb that will kill ten thousand civilians and ending the war.

If I say designed a better targeting system. Did I...
1. Make a system more capable of destroying people.
2. Make a system more capable of not hitting the wrong people.

Re:Already does. (3, Insightful)

dcw3 (649211) | about 5 months ago | (#45610737)

So basically, no engineer could work for DoD. So, let's take that idea to the extreme. We disarm, and nobody is allowed to work on any defensive weapons, and we all sing Kum ba yah. Make sense? Yeah, I didn't think so either.

Re:Already does. (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | about 5 months ago | (#45610405)

A medical doctor who participates in a state-sanctioned execution will still find himself in professional jeopardy at home and typically wouldn't be allowed to practice abroad. The same is not true of engineers involved in the design of devices used in state-sanctioned executions.

Well, no shit (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45609997)

Every single person needs to do this. If you work in the weapons industry and don't feel bad about it, you are a psychopath. Simple.

Re:Well, no shit (5, Insightful)

Shoten (260439) | about 5 months ago | (#45610171)

Every single person needs to do this. If you work in the weapons industry and don't feel bad about it, you are a psychopath. Simple.

So your view is that good guys produce no weapons, and bad guys produce lots of weapons...and it's that simple? What happens when the bad guys decide to be bad with their weapons by turning them on the unarmed, defenseless good guys?

Or, is it that some people should work in the weapons industry, but feel really really bad about it. And of course, those of us who have happy jobs are the better people, since we took the "high road" by forcing someone else to be bad. Perhaps we could have a lottery (Shirley Jackson's version), to decide who among us has to be bad so that our good lives can continue safely. Then we can all sit back and bask in the shiny, sunny warmth of just how good we all are, unlike those bad, bad people who make weapons that we can defend ourselves with...

Re:Well, no shit (1)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 5 months ago | (#45610199)

Without the weapons industry we wouldn't have space exploration. All the satellites we cherish so much go up on converted ICBMs.

Bullshit (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610251)

I work in "the weapons industry". I sleep well knowing that my projects are being used so that my baby girls can sleep well at night. But then, I've seen first hand what motivated, evil people do when nobody stops them. But then, I've been to some nasty parts of Africa. At the risk of Godwining the thread, I strongly encourage you to go tour one of the concentration camps in Germany. Those people exist, and to paraphrase, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."-Orwell,

Re:Bullshit (1, Troll)

AIphaWolf_HK (3439155) | about 5 months ago | (#45610421)

Those people exist, and to paraphrase, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."-Orwell,

Unfortunately, those rough men also consume tons of tax money to fight in ridiculous wars and kill thousands upon thousands of innocents unnecessarily. Real wars of defense are few and far between.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 5 months ago | (#45610917)

Rough men do those things, at the politician's request. The Army just doesn't invade a country, it does so at the request of people YOU help elected (whether you voted for them or not, I'm speaking collectively)(assuming you live in a democratic society of some sort).

In short, YOU (we, us) are the problem, not the soldiers we send on our behalf. Wanna change which wars we fight, change who you vote for, AND Politic for more people like you voting for your kind of liars to represent you better.

Short of changing who you vote for, and getting others to vote similarly, you're representatives are doing what most people "want" (ostensibly). So, yes, they are doing exactly what you're unwilling to do, because you/we/us have told them to do exactly that.

Unfortunately, not enough people support people on the libertarian side of things to really change the outcome. People on the left choose war monger Feinstein and from the right, war monger McCain the same, not because they are war mongers but rather because of other less important issues like "abortion right" or "fiscal conservative". War mongering is just a nasty side effect.

Re:Well, no shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610691)

Every single person needs to do this. If you work in the weapons industry and don't feel bad about it, you are a psychopath. Simple.

This is what 12 year-olds actually believe.

War Engines (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610005)

We engineers got our historical start by building WAR engines.

Re:War Engines (-1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 5 months ago | (#45610053)

Lots of unwritten pacifist assumptions in TFS, of course I didn't read TFA.

Oppenheimer saved _millions_ of lives.

Re:War Engines (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#45610157)

Oppenheimer saved _millions_ of lives.

I'm not sure he saw it that way [brainyquote.com] :

When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.

In fact, he was later very much opposed [wikipedia.org] to its use:

However, he and many of the project staff were very upset about the bombing of Nagasaki, as they did not feel the second bomb was necessary from a military point of view.[113] He traveled to Washington on August 17 to hand-deliver a letter to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson expressing his revulsion and his wish to see nuclear weapons banned."

Re:War Engines (5, Insightful)

cyn1c77 (928549) | about 5 months ago | (#45610847)

Oppenheimer saved _millions_ of lives.

I'm not sure he saw it that way [brainyquote.com] :

When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.

In fact, he was later very much opposed [wikipedia.org] to its use:

However, he and many of the project staff were very upset about the bombing of Nagasaki, as they did not feel the second bomb was necessary from a military point of view.[113] He traveled to Washington on August 17 to hand-deliver a letter to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson expressing his revulsion and his wish to see nuclear weapons banned."

Oppenheimer was always a very conflicted individual.

Remember that he wasn't an elected politician or military commander, he was a civilian scientist who was tasked to develop the atomic bomb. It was never his job to decide if the bombs should be used and he knew that. In fact, he was very much motivated to both develop these weapons during WWII when he was terrified of the Nazi's developing a nuclear capability and using it on the Allies.

It's unfortunate that he felt bad about it later on. But guess what? A lot of people felt bad about many of their war actions later on. However, it was war. People tend to make different decisions when they are under an extreme amount of stress from a looming predator as compared to when they are relaxing in their vacation house.

Try to envision the time period. The Nazis had annihilated most of Europe and were gassing civilian Jews to death because they didn't think they were the perfect race. They were making lightshades out of Jewish skin for fun. The Japanese were waging a particularly vicious war on the Pacific. The US was stuck between these two insanities and tried to stay out of things for as long as possible. 12 MILLION people died in WWII. After the Nazis surrendered, the US had to start shipping war weary troops to the other side of the world for more fighting.

Was dropping two atomic bombs on Japan a nice thing to do? No. But I think the US was prepared to keep making nukes and dropping them on Japan until Japan surrendered rather than lose more US troops invading Japan.

Lack of Direct involvement (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610019)

Probably because a Doctor helping torture someone is directly involved. The engineer's creation may be used in a way he/she never invisioned and with no involvement from him./her

Re:Lack of Direct involvement (2)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#45610283)

Probably because a Doctor helping torture someone is directly involved. The engineer's creation may be used in a way he/she never invisioned and with no involvement from him./her

Nor even with the knowledge of the ultimate use of his/her creation. Weapons can be used for good, its all about the intentions of those operating the weapons. For example those engineers who worked on weapons used to destroy the Third Reich, many of these were designed during peace time, ex M1 Garand Rifle of the US Army and Marine Corp. Short of WMD things are not so clear.

Re:Lack of Direct involvement (1)

Salgak1 (20136) | about 5 months ago | (#45610493)

Indeed. Let's look at the classic case, Alfred Nobel and Dynamite. The same exact substance both aids mining AND is used in weapons. . .

And then there is the flip side: weapons tech adapted to civilian use. Modern electronics come to mind, as do many of the techniques of trauma surgery, developed in war zones when dealing with wounded. . .

Re:Lack of Direct involvement (1)

bberens (965711) | about 5 months ago | (#45610819)

I'm not sure things are clear on WMDs either. I firmly believe that the invention of the atomic bomb has saved the lives of millions of people over the decades.

Gambling addiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610023)

I can agree, but a lot of it is in grey area, I'm a software engineer and build games that people play in casinos and the like and I can sleep well since there are a lot of safety restrictions from countries themselves demanding something to shield addicts from playing too much or too long. But that's not true in every country and in america, even the states have very different laws.

Moral dilemma? Far from it for me, but enough people turn down a job here.

Like Radio? (3, Insightful)

locust (6639) | about 5 months ago | (#45610035)

In Rowanda the slaughter was committed using nothing more than machetes. However the people where whipped into a fervor by people on the radio inciting to violence. Marconi should have seen it coming. He had a responsibility.

More seriously, to paraphrase stephenson and others. human beings are at the top of the food chain because we are the most effective and fearsome killing machines currently known. We will find new ways to kill things, and each other regardless of the intended purpose of a tool, and how many safe guards are built into it. It is what we do and why we are where we are.

Ethical Nuclear Bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610043)

For the sake of destroying the world where no ethics are needed.

Thats a loaded question (4, Insightful)

stewsters (1406737) | about 5 months ago | (#45610047)

Technology is a tool, and a tool can be used a weapon. You should blame the one who wields the weapon. Do we blame Pasteur for biological warfare? I do not, but without him much of what we know about making bio-weapons would not exist.

You can study rockets to go to the moon, but eventually someone is going to shoot them at their neighbor.

You can study a way to get cheap energy for everyone, but eventually someone will make a bomb.

You can create a large forum for the people that is resistant to people stopping you from communication, but someone will eventually create a global spy system that watches everything you do.

It is unfortunate, but I would place the blame not on the person who makes the technology, but the one who decides how to use it. When we complain about doctors helping with torture, we are complaining about the ones there to extend the pain, not the ones who came up with ways keep people alive.

Re:Thats a loaded question (2, Insightful)

mounthood (993037) | about 5 months ago | (#45610845)

It is unfortunate, but I would place the blame not on the person who makes the technology, but the one who decides how to use it.

When we design something, we're "the one who decides how to use it"; that's part of designing it. The intentions of the designer matter, and if they're evil the designer should be blamed. Consider, If I make a torture device, can I just shrug my shoulders and say 'they decided to use it the way I designed it, so it's their fault'?

To make it more relatable, if I make a Friendface website where it's easy to share personal info but hard to protect it, should I deserve any of the blame? Even if the users deserve blame, that doesn't make the designer blameless. And the designers deserve more blame when you consider the complications of the real world, like marketing departments lying to the users about how it's safe, and managers denying any time for security issues (or denying the issues even exists).

They do (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 5 months ago | (#45610067)

A lot of the engineers I've known who worked on military equipment do consider the ethical implications of their work. They feel they are helping protect our troops (see the beginning of Iron Man 1, where Tony Stark uses a similar justification), or something similar.

Other guys I know are just happy to have a job. Some people consider it unethical to work in the corporate world at all, so just because you consider something unethical, doesn't mean everyone considers it unethical. The NSA has the purpose of catching terrorists, which is a good goal. The reason we don't like them is because of the abuses, not because of their goal.

Re:They do (5, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 5 months ago | (#45610231)

I've worked on military systems before that were designed to enable killing.

Mine were more accurate than any predecessors, used better sensors than any predecessors, and had better controls than any predecessors. Sure, it's possible to send it off to kill civilians, but if you're aiming for the bad guy, it will kill only the bad guy, and not the schoolchildren next door.

To me, that's ethical. It'd be great if we could stop killing each other, but until that happens I'm going to do my best to keep everybody outside the conflict safe.

Re:They do (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610531)

The world is not divided into "good guys" and "bad guys".

Re:They do (1, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 5 months ago | (#45610713)

The world is not divided into "good guys" and "bad guys"

If someone wants to kill me, they automatically become bad guys (to me). It doesn't matter if it's 'unfair' or who started it, when they want to kill me, they automatically become bad.

Of course, they see it the opposite way, and if both of us want to fight less than we want peace, we may be able to come to an agreement, and neither of us be bad anymore.

Re:They do (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610733)

Yes, it is. Does it depend on perspective? Yes. Is the line always static? Of course not.

Re:They do (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610267)

The NSA has the purpose of catching terrorists, which is a good goal.

I'm not sure how to react to this claim. I suppose it's on the list of the NSA's purposes, but you seem to imply it's their main or only one.

Re:They do (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610277)

(posting AC due to content)

I worked on a military project in the early part of the 2000s focused on cracking cell-phone encryption technology. At the time, it was just an interesting problem, with the potential to maybe "help fight terrorism". I didn't really think a lot about the implications of the work, I was just glad to have an interesting job.

I've now got a bit more perspective. Maybe the technology I worked on helped us catch Osama bin Laden. Or maybe it's helping the NSA listen to American citizens. Maybe both.

I don't think it's as simple as saying that engineers are responsible for all of the uses of the technologies they build, but I don't think we can ignore all responsibility either. Something I think about a lot these days.

Re:They do (3, Insightful)

JeanCroix (99825) | about 5 months ago | (#45610289)

There is certainly a sort of "mercenary" ethic amongst many defense engineers. As long as there are soldiers willing to pull triggers, there will be engineers willing to design the guns. As well as simple game-theory type reasoning - "I can take the pay for this job; but if I don't, they'll find someone else who will." I get the feeling the article author doesn't know and didn't really talk with any longtime defense engineers - professors can be quite removed from that world.

And this is to say nothing of the defense engineers who are actually gung-ho about their work.

Re:They do (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 5 months ago | (#45610591)

And most of the the money that went into AI and ML research came from milatery/defense sources and i know people who switched out of AI because of it.

Re:They do (1)

RPI Geek (640282) | about 5 months ago | (#45610753)

A lot of the engineers I've known who worked on military equipment do consider the ethical implications of their work. They feel they are helping protect our troops ...

I graduated with a dual BS in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. At graduation time, I very much wanted to be an engineer rather than a programmer, but I also didn't want to contribute to war in any capacity; so I narrowly focused my job search on employers who were NOT in the defense sector. Nearly everyone I told about my decision gave me the very same argument as you. My self-imposed restrictions certainly made my job search harder, so I expanded my search to programming where I found a satisfying career path that has absolutely nothing to do with engineering. Que sera sera.

The joke goes like this: What's the difference between Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers? Mechanical Engineers make weapons and Civil Engineers make targets.

Doctors save soldiers (3, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | about 5 months ago | (#45610079)

Saying an engineer shouldn't design a better weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't treat a wounded soldier.

Re:Doctors save soldiers (3, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 5 months ago | (#45610223)

Saying an engineer shouldn't design a better weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't treat a wounded soldier.

No, saying an engineer shouldn't design a better weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't culture anthrax for the military to use as a weapon. I'm not particularly opposed to designing better weapons for the military (it will happen regardless), but it does seem engineers are held to different ethical standards than medical docs. Not necessarily better or worse standards, mind you, just standards more suited to the job they perform.

Re:Doctors save soldiers (2)

JesseMcDonald (536341) | about 5 months ago | (#45610303)

Saying an engineer shouldn't design a better weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't treat a wounded soldier.

Ethical doctors treat the wounded on both sides. Can most (military) weapon designers make the same claim?

I see nothing unethical about designing or manufacturing weapons for defensive use, so long as you sell them indiscriminately to anyone in need of defense. Knowingly designing or manufacturing weapons for use by an aggressor, on the other hand, would make you complicit—much like selling a weapon to someone knowing that they plan to use it to rob a bank or commit a murder.

Re:Doctors save soldiers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610549)

Seeing as how the taliban uses the weapons sold to them by the US it seems they are very ethical.

Re:Doctors save soldiers (1)

internerdj (1319281) | about 5 months ago | (#45610817)

Please provide a working definition of aggressor that stands up beyond ethical idealism. It can't just be going off to fight on soil that isn't your own, because that makes the US wrong for stepping in to help stop Hitler. On the other end, it can't be any conceivable contrivance like invading a oil-rich country because your cabinet member owns an oil company and he needs a little extra pressure.

Re:Doctors save soldiers (1)

komodo685 (2920329) | about 5 months ago | (#45610447)

Saying an engineer shouldn't design a better non-lethal weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't treat a wounded soldier.

FTFY (Even that is arguable given they could be used to enforce a police state, and that non-lethal weapons can cause permanent injury)

However of course this may be impossible or impractical with current technology. Ex. I imagine it would be impractical with current technology to disable an aircraft or submarine without virtually guaranteeing the death of some/all occupants.

Wars are frequently started not for moral reasons but merely justified by citing some moral argument with no connection to reality. Designing better lethal weapons for a country (read America) that is already generations of military tech ahead of all allies and much more so enemies with the justification of "saving lives" is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

Author draws a false dichotomy (1)

I_am_Rambi (536614) | about 5 months ago | (#45610147)

"When doctors or nurses use their knowledge of anatomy in order to torture or conduct medical experiments on helpless subjects, we are rightly outraged. Why doesn't society seem to apply the same standards to engineers?" If the doctor uses their knowledge of anatomy to conduct medical experiments, do we blame the person that created the tool, the tool, or do we blame the doctor? When someone uses a weapon to kill someone, do we blame the person that created the weapon, the weapon, or the person using the weapon. Too often we will blame the doctor if they did something wrong, in modern day history if someone did something wrong it is not their fault. Its the weapon, the parents, etc. Engineers are tasked with creating an item (be it a weapon, or a car) to be safe as possible to the user. They have no moral obligation to prevent it from being used incorrectly.

Re:Author draws a false dichotomy (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 5 months ago | (#45610439)

They have no moral obligation to prevent it from being used incorrectly.

How about weapons of mass destruction?
And consider the asymmetric case, where 1 party has access to this technology but the other(s) do not.

Re:Author draws a false dichotomy (2)

peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! (2743031) | about 5 months ago | (#45610749)

How about weapons of mass destruction?.

As others have pointed out, the items are merely 'tools' and the application the tool is where the morality lies.

Could you imagine a world where we routinely use nuclear weapons to relieve stresses in the Earth's crust and prevent large earthquakes and their devastating effects? What about stopping large oil spills quickly?

Using a nuclear weapon on an oil spill. [nytimes.com]

Unfortunately, many helpful adaptations of large scale explosives are not being utilized due to the political implications, but even a 'weapon of mass destruction' can be a useful tool to save lives (and money).

Wrong target (0)

war4peace (1628283) | about 5 months ago | (#45610165)

The engineer designs/builds the stuff. Someone else uses the stuff unethically.
Pretty much anything can be weaponized; some things more directly than others, but in the end, whatever you design, think, build, imagine can (and likely will) be used to hurt others, be they human beings or animals.

OK, there are those who work directly in the military industry, but ethics is only involved when you say "there is someone who works there and they should know better". I agree to that, however, if John Doe is an engineer and he's offered a military industry job, then if he turns it down, someone else will take it. There's always going to be someone who takes that job.

Also, the article implies that an engineer should think of all possible implications when working on something, including ethical use of the product. Which brings back the original statement: you can't make sure that the product will only be used in an ethical manner. It's an impossibility. The only assurance would be that no engineer builds anything anymore. And I'm pretty sure that most people would loathe shivering in a cave with only a raw pelt covering their skin. Just sayin'...

Some implications are less obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610167)

While some projects have clear intentions and goals that involve use in harming other people, there is kind of spectrum from obvious to not obvious in terms of what harm may come about. There are a lot of things that have a primary use no where near the military or related to harming people that still can greatly help out other projects that are more directly connected to such issues.

I was at a conference a couple years ago where a talk was given during a dinner at the conference by some members of the military on the use technology related to the conference. It was in some ways an interesting talk because the conference had little to do with military or defense work otherwise, but also highlighted how the work of people there were contributing to the Iraq war at the time. Then the two speakers ended the talk with, "We wanted to thank you, the audience for your research efforts, as you make it easier for us to kill people on the other side," followed by a silent hall full of people. They could have said something like, "Thank you for helping protect our soldiers," or even, "Thanks for making it easier to achieve our objectives," but instead went with something much more blunt. It seemed obvious that many people are concerned with the implications of their work, even if they don't think about it often or don't realize how far the work can go.

Huge Difference (2)

Flozzin (626330) | about 5 months ago | (#45610201)

Biological and chemical weapons were used, are used. It is just that now the world decries their use. If you look at WWI for instance. So it wasn't always the case that doctors were persecuted for using their knowledge for war. With engineers, creating conventional weapons, that is something accepted by the world. There is no moral outrage(on a large enough scale to matter)against a 500lbs bomb. When it comes to conventional weapons, everyone accepts the risks. We realize we need defense, so they are good. If someone uses them for offense, or evil instead, then that person is blamed, not the engineer. Should people that create steak knives also think about the ethical implications if someone gets stabbed with their knife? What if a car is used for violence? I realize these aren't the best examples, but my point is intended use. That is what matters. If an engineer creates a single weapon that will destroy the planet, then you will have your outrage. There is no point to such a weapon. Nuclear weapons are close to that, but they have been used to save lives as well.(est. that over 1 million Americans would have died invading Japan, along with millions of Japanese) There is nothing wrong with stepping back and saying, "Am I morally Ok with what I am creating?" But when it comes to conventional and nuclear weapons, if someone says no, then there will be hundreds to take your place. Military technology also trickles down to the general public and improves their lives as well.

Ban the fool, not the tool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610211)

Apps that get used to suppress freedoms or help keep people dependent on the government are just as bad.

Disagree with the parent and here is why (0)

gentlemen_loser (817960) | about 5 months ago | (#45610221)

To be clear, I like the place the article is coming from (personally). However, what the author is asking is akin to saying why should we not question soldiers when they kill when we hold buddhists to such high standards.

In a utopian world, I would agree with the author. However, we do not live in utopia - we live on earth with governments of ALL countries employing as many engineers as they can afford to design better and more effecient ways to kill (and defend themselves). Some of those people are even the doctors the author is describing (building biological weapons).

For as long as humans have existed, there has been conflict. It is a basic human right to have the ability to defend yourself (as a person or community) from agressors and it is these problems that engineers are working to solve.

Lots of gray areas (3, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | about 5 months ago | (#45610227)

Designing a missile system to kill lots of brown people on the other side of the world is not very ethically ambiguous. Thing is, there are plenty of technologies that are.

For example, DARPA has been doing lots of research on robots. They point out how self-driving cars can save lives, robots can find and defuse bombs and rescue victims, etc. But these technologies can be used for war just as easily.

Re:Lots of gray areas (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 5 months ago | (#45610751)

Designing a missile system to kill lots of brown people on the other side of the world is not very ethically ambiguous

It's also a strawman. People don't design missile systems to kill people just because they are brown; that's not why the Iraq war happened. Either one of them.

And Journalists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610245)

What about when journalists use their craft to guilt-manipulate people into following their personal agendas?

Morality Engine (1)

Tiger4 (840741) | about 5 months ago | (#45610257)

Even if I could develop a morality engine and install it in every device, system, and process I've ever worked on, I don't think I would. Not only is it too comnplex a problem, it subverts the morals of the user and substitutes my own. And I Know I don't have the far ranging vision to appreciate the fine points of every potential future situation to evaluate them properly. It is hard enough to do that well in real time, with all or most of the facts and evidence present for examination.

Any engineer, actiing responsibly, can take or refuse a job based on the knowledge at hand, and whatever moral framework may seem to apply. But predicting the future uses as well, no. It has been generally ruled out and rightly so. To do otherwise assumes people of the future are incapable of seeing their own situation and evaluating it for themselves. That kind of deprecation is as bad or worse than the kind of ancestor worship that says our forebears were smarter, wiser, more moral, etc than we are today. Still wrong, but at least in looking back we have evidence to back up (some of) the claims.

I've been happily and ethically employed (3)

david.emery (127135) | about 5 months ago | (#45610373)

in the US Military-Industrial Complex for most of the last 35 years.

If that doesn't match your ethics, that's OK.

Total Fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610383)

I find the premise to be a heaping pile of intellectual masturbatory dung. I am sure the author will also say that guns are evil and responsible for the deaths of people.

Until the technology, be it a gun, other weapon or what not is actually USED for an evil purpose it is not evil nor is its creation. The ethical responsibility lies in the hands of the person pulling the literal or figurative trigger, not in the creator or manufacture of the figurative or literal gun.

This type of thinking taken to its logical conclusion should put us all back in a cave covered in bubble wrap since every technology ever thought of can be used to commit evil.

Re:Total Fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610707)

Speaking of fallacies...

Relevant film scene (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 5 months ago | (#45610485)

Kevin Smith - Clerks on ethics in contractors [youtube.com]

BLUE-COLLAR MAN: Excuse me. I don't mean to interrupt, but what were you talking about?
RANDAL: The ending of Return of the Jedi.
DANTE: My friend is trying to convince me that any contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when the space station was destroyed by the rebels.
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: Well, I'm a contractor myself. I'm a roofer... (digs into pocket and produces business card) Dunn and Reddy Home Improvements. And speaking as a roofer, I can say that a roofer's personal politics come heavily into play when choosing jobs.
RANDAL: Like when?
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: Three months ago I was offered a job up in the hills. A beautiful house with tons of property. It was a simple reshingling job, but I was told that if it was finished within a day, my price would be doubled. Then I realized whose house it was.
DANTE: Whose house was it?
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: Dominick Bambino's.
RANDAL: "Babyface" Bambino? The gangster?
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: The same. The money was right, but the risk was too big. I knew who he was, and based on that, I passed the job on to a friend of mine.
DANTE: Based on personal politics.
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: Right. And that week, the Foresci family put a hit on Babyface's house. My friend was shot and killed. He wasn't even finished shingling.
RANDAL: No way!
BLUE-COLLAR MAN: (paying for coffee) I'm alive because I knew there were risks involved taking on that particular client. My friend wasn't so lucky. (pauses to reflect) You know, any contractor willing to work on that Death Star knew the risks. If they were killed, it was their own fault. A roofer listens to this... (taps his heart) not his wallet.

Re:Relevant film scene (2)

neminem (561346) | about 5 months ago | (#45610687)

Interestingly enough, according to canon this actually wasn't true. The Star Wars canon actually provides my favorite (fictional) example of an engineer who completely failed to consider what the project they were working on would be used for. There was a whole super-top-secret space lab, where a bunch of engineers worked on weapons of unimaginably massive destruction such as the Death Star... while being fed bull about how they'd be used for good (I recall the Death Star specifically was supposed to be used for mining. I totally don't remember what the Sun Crusher was supposedly going to be used for, but it was something hilariously *unlike* "destroy whole inhabited solar systems", I'm sure.)

Moderately off-topic, but I always thought that was one of the most brilliant pieces of Expanded Universe writing.

As someone going for a PhD in CEE (3, Insightful)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 5 months ago | (#45610489)

As someone going for a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering, my basic response to Mr. El-Zein is ...

Sod off.

Now stop thinking that the world needs to fix the Middle East or care about your "problems".

Oil is over. Nobody cares about you anymore.

Use the license (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 5 months ago | (#45610507)

An engineer should just look into the license.txt files that came with the particular technologies he/she used.

If, for example, it says: "this technology SHALL NOT be used to harm people", then you should either not build weapons with it, or you should search for another technology with a more liberal license.

New Moral conscience OSS licenses? (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 5 months ago | (#45610539)

I have long thought it was time for OSS licenses to support a morality clause, that does not grant license to the software when the software is used to extinguish life or violate the rights of people. This, if applied to Linux, would prohibit use of Linux in military applications, like that sniper rifle as well as a number of drones.

I have long taken a moral exception to working for defense contractors, especially since 9-11 when we started spying on everyone and killing people with drones. However Linux/OSS was not as attractive then. I want no part of my software to be used in the use of depriving people of life, liberty, or their rights.

I call on all open source licenses to add a morality clause, or offer a version with the morality clause. To not do so is to condone the use of the software for nefarious purposes.

All engineers should do this (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 5 months ago | (#45610541)

and not just those who happen to work in today's "hot button issues" Amazon and its massive JIT warehousing has a social impact just as much as working on a new drone avionics package - and economists and accountants who need to have and follow an ethical code - if you develop a tax doge that damages poor people ok in his book?

Most Do, but That Doesn't Mean Their Ethics Agree (2)

Koreantoast (527520) | about 5 months ago | (#45610547)

Most engineers I've met who work in defense do not wake up every morning thinking about more efficient ways to kill women and children. They wake up, believing that what they do furthers the protection of their families, fellow citizens and their homeland. Doesn't matter if the engineer is an American, Chinese, Russian, Israeli, Iranian, etc., most pretty much think that what they do is going to create a better and safer world for their loved ones. The engineers at the NSA, and I would even argue their most senior leadership, likely believe that what they do is for the benefit of the United States. I think there's plenty of room to argue whether or not their assumptions and ethical standards are correct, but to imply that they're not thinking about this at all or simply creating superweapons for sport with no care about their end uses is overly simplistic.

Re:Most Do, but That Doesn't Mean Their Ethics Agr (1)

guyniraxn (1579409) | about 5 months ago | (#45610887)

This. Very much this. I have an EE. I remember when I graduated almost ten years ago Raytheon was one of the bigger employers of engineers in the area (still is). I had friends who refused to work for them or BAE or any of the other defense contractors for moral reasons. Others specifically wanted to be in those companies to contribute to the protection of US lives. Everyone has their own opinion of right and wrong when it comes to defense, engineers are not excluded from this.

Distributed responsibility (4, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 5 months ago | (#45610599)

When doctors or nurses use their knowledge of anatomy in order to torture or conduct medical experiments on helpless subjects, we are rightly outraged. Why doesn't society seem to apply the same standards to engineers?

When a doctor tortures a patient there is a direct cause and effect from the doctor's actions to the pain and suffering of the victim.

When an engineer designs a weapon, he's not actually causing the pain and suffering. Once you get away from "complete responsibility", the rest is easy:

1) If I don't do it, someone else will
2) I need to feed myself and my family
3) It'll only be used on the bad guys
4) It helps protect my country
5) It's the user's responsibility, not mine
6) The boss thinks it's a good idea
7) It has significant non-evil uses
8) No one will ever know it was me

For a concrete example, consider the Collateral Murder [youtube.com] video from a couple of years back. Who was responsible for these deaths?

The helicopter pilots got the go-ahead from their commanders, the commanders [probably] got the go-ahead from intelligence services, the services made the correct decision based on the information they had, and the information was somehow "wrong".

Who's to blame for the collateral murder incident? By deftly distributing blame among many players, it changes from personal responsibility to "a failure of the system", or "a tragic accident".

For a second example, consider Bush's Iraq war: he was on TV stating that he had convincing evidence of WMDs in Iraq. A couple of years later it came out that the intelligence services had never said this and tried to convince the president of the opposite. Bush's response was: "We [the administration] didn't get the message". (Note the use of "we" in his statement.)

Who's responsible for the war? The President says he got bad intelligence, the intelligence services say they never gave bad intelligence. It's impossible to lay the blame on someone, it's a "failure of the system".

But don't worry, the problem is fixed - it'll never happen again.

(Epilogue: The Gulf oil spill was largely enabled by failures of the Minerals Management Service, who is responsible for overseeing the safety procedures of off-shore drilling. The problems were largely fixed by renaming the service to Bureau of Ocean Management [boemre.gov] . The problem is fixed, now we won't have any more disasters. Sorry about that...)

tools will always become weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610705)

a screwdriver makes a great shank
a 3 foot level makes a great bludgeoning object
a laser can be used to blind your opponent

anything that we ever created can be used for good or evil, rather than blame the maker we should blame the people who make the decision to use such a tool for evil.

case in point,

should we outlaw every 3D printer because they can be used to make a projectile weapon? or maybe go after the people who make gunpowder because its used in bullets? what about all the beneficial things that those tools can do?

lets stop comparing doctors and engineers, while both have professional organizations representing them their function in society is completely different and in no way comparable.

that's a joke right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610791)

work ethics? in a capitalist economy?
I hate banks but I do write code for their SWIFT interfaces.
I hate politicians but if I could put my ass in Brussels and get my 12kE/m doing meetings 3-4d/w, I would do it.
I'd get paid twice as much to program war machines, I'd do it and I would say "hey it's fun playing with robots!".

Why? Because it's too late to be idealistic when you're fully aware of what's going on. Your own sacrifice, as in "I'm out to Iceland growing weed", will be for nothing.
Individually and given the choice we would all wipe that system out but we can't, we won't and there is no way out.
The more technology the more science, the more controled we are, we are trapped, plain and simple.

Get real folks.

Ethics?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45610801)

Blah blah blah, you can't tell me how many death lazers, giant robots, or doomsday devices I build. Screw off buddy.

Good Will Hunting (1)

aitikin (909209) | about 5 months ago | (#45610841)

Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Sounds like a good option.

I've turned down assignments for ethical reasons (1)

DontBlameCanada (1325547) | about 5 months ago | (#45610861)

I won't go into specifics, but for me a few extra dollars or potential for advancement would *not* compensate for the lifetime of guilt I'd suffer knowing something I built or contributed to was primarily designed to do harm. Likewise, I will lose respect for those in a similar position to me who willingly contribute or design those systems.

On the other end of the scale, folks struggling to get by have my sympathy when assigned tasks like this. Food on the table and a roof over their family's head may trump personal ethics in some situations. When I and the other senior engineers declined the tasks I refer to, they assigned it to new-grad immigrants who for cultural and financial reasons felt they couldn't push back. The Evil Bit(tm) was definitely set in that workplace.
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