Engineering ethics under the spotlight of new consultation

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UK engineers are being invited to contribute to a new consultation run by Leeds University exploring engineering ethics.

engineering ethics

Engineering Ethics 2028 is aiming to establish a new ethical framework for the sector, as well as increase engagement with professional bodies and encourage sustainability. It’s estimated that just 15 per cent of engineers in the UK are members of a professional body, with PEIs (Professional Engineering Institutions) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) seen as crucial touchpoints for ethical debate.

“Engineers who are not members of a professional institution are not necessarily ignoring their ethical and professional responsibilities but being part of a professional body strengthens the likelihood that those obligations will be met,” said lead author Dr Jim Baxter, from Leeds University’s Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre.

“Engineers have the power to do tremendous good but technology can also be harmful. The ethics vision, if the profession adopts it, will ensure they think about public opinion and the public good – and in some cases, they might have to say ‘no’ to a project.”

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A key driver behind the consultation is the rate at which new technologies are infiltrating society, such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Regulatory and ethical frameworks are essential if these advances are to evolve safely, and engineers will play a fundamental role in the direction they take.

“Engineering Ethics 2028 has to be set against the context of rapid technological change, and that change will have an impact on all our lives,” said Baxter.

“The people who are key to inventing, designing and building this technology are engineers. More than ever, they need to consider the interests of the public in the work that they do.”

Engineering Ethics 2028 was drawn-up following discussion with leaders from across the profession, including RAEng, the Engineering Professors’ Council and Engineers Without Borders UK. The vision builds on work that started back in 2003 by the RAEng to define the ethical values underlying engineering work. Those wishing to participate in the consultation can do so here.