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Ethics and Responsibilities; What role do they play in our lives?

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

Hi everyone! For those who are reading a blog of mine for the first time, my name is Freya Shah. I will be in Grade 10 come September at Woburn CI! This week, I had the opportunity to attend an extremely informative workshop with Mackenzie Clark, and I am so excited to share my experience with everyone today! Mackenzie's workshop was extremely informational and hands-on, where we got to learn about ethics in technology, as well as got to create our very own website! (Mine is still in the making). Mackenzie explained how one slip-up can turn an innovative, useful technology into a harmful and ill-mannered one very easily. This blog post will focus primarily on Ethics, and how we as individuals, as well as companies, can implement them into our worlds.


Before we get into my key takeaways, let's talk a little about Mackenzie! Mackenzie is originally from Kelowna, British Columbia, however, she moved to Toronto to study Robotics Engineering. Here, she explained how one of her most rewarding experiences was joining the Blue Sky Solar Race team as a Mechanical Engineer! Mackenzie was part of a team that designed, built, tested, and raced a solar powered car across the States! She ended up deciding that Mechanical Engineering was not for her, so she left the team and took a year off of school to find her passion, and see what she wants to do in life. During that year, Mackenzie landed a job at Intel. She explained how this first job provided her with the greatest mentorship, and opened her eyes to see just how valuable mentorship really is. Shortly after this, Mackenzie landed a Software Engineering Internship at Google, and that is how she got into her current job as a Software Engineer at Google.

From Mackenzie's Story, I had three major takeaways:


There is never a failed opportunity-

By taking part in the Blue Sky Solar Race, Mackenzie got to learn more about herself! Even though she ended up leaving the team, she learned that Mechanical Engineering was not for her. This goes to show that each opportunity is never wasted. You always learn something, whether it be something you love, or something you get to cross off your list!


Building Confidence through Experience-

Mackenzie explained that her first job at Intel helped her gain confidence. There is a quote that I really love, and it relates right back to this topic.


" Confidence comes from experience.

Experience comes from doing.

Doing comes from courage."


I cant do this YET-

Mackenzie also explained that at Google, they teach students the power of YET. When you tell yourself you cannot do something, that is DEmotivation. Adding those three simple letters turns Demotivation into motivation! It allows you to know that there is still room and time for you to grow!


 

My Key Takeaways


  1. Being a creator of Technology comes with High Responsibility.

Engineers wear IRON RINGS. These are little pieces of metal engineers wear on their pinky finger of their dominant hand, to remind themselves of the obligations and ethical responsibilities that come with being a creator of technology (engineer). This iron ring works kind of like a red string, that many of us may have heard of. Why Iron? Well, there is a little story behind this :


"The Quebec Bridge was to be the first bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Quebec. Construction began around the turn of the 20th century.

The engineer who designed the bridge had never worked on a project of that size before, and it didn’t have the structural strength to support its own weight. Despite early warning signs, a combination of vanity and political pressure pushed the project forward. On August 29, 1907, the bridge collapsed, killing 75 workers.


Understandably, the second attempt at building the bridge was under even more pressure than the first attempt. Corners were cut to get the project back on schedule and under budget. Those decisions caught up with them on September 11, 1916, when the bridge collapsed a second time, killing another 13 workers.


After the second collapse, the chief engineer took a length of pipe from the wreckage, had it sliced into rings, and distributed one to each man working on the project. The ring was to be worn on the little finger of their dominant hand. Every time they bumped it while signing off on a design, or turning a tool, it was to remind them that peoples’ lives hung in the balance of their judgement.


No more shortcuts. From then on, every man was to do his best work and nothing less."

 

2. Remembering that things that we create can be repurposed for negative use.

For example, a commonly used technology is Facial Recognition. To a common person, facial recognition can prove to be extremely useful, in terms of unlocking your phone, or an automatic focus when you are taking a picture. But reality is that Facial Recognition has been proven to be repurposed for harmful applications. Some examples would be to follow or watch certain people, steal faces and identities to commit crimes, or for systematic biases. Facial Recognition can be harmful if it is used in this illegal manner.

 

What exactly are Ethics?


The word "ethics" is derived from the Greek word "ethos", which means a "way of living." Ethics are the set of moral principles that guide a person’s behavior. Each individuals ethics help a person determine:


- What is "right" and what is "wrong"

- What is "just" and what is "unjust"

- What is "good" and what is "bad"


What shapes a persons ethics?

A persons ethics are determined by many factors, three of which I find the most dominant. Social Norms, Cultural Practices, and Religious influence all play a huge role in determining a moral set.

Social Norms

Social norms are rules and standards that are collectively agreed upon and understood by members of a societal group. Social norms can be INFORMAL understanding, or can be made into government rules or laws. They are typically concerned with behaviors of decision making.


Cultural Practices

Cultural practices are "shared perceptions of how people routinely behave in a culture." These practices shape the ethics, values, and morals of each individual. "As is" makes a statement an ethic, where as "should be" makes it a value.



Religious Influences

Religious ethics are the moral principles that guide religions and that set the standard for what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Religious practices vary, and therefore shape individuals ethics differently. A religion is a tradition and practice based on a conception of what is real and significant.

 

How does an individual determine what is right and what is wrong? (Moral assessment)

Moral reasoning is the use of logic to determine what is right or wrong, just or unjust, good or bad. To make an assessment, you have to think of the impact it will have on others as well. There are 4 scientifically proven behaviors that play a role in Moral Behavior, which include moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character.




Moral Sensitivity

Moral sensitivity is identifying a moral problem, and thinking of potential solutions and the impact they will have on others.




Moral Judgement

Correctly reasoning what should be done in the specific situation. It also refers to the determination an individual has behind a certain ethical choice.




Moral Motivation

The ability to accept and take upon full responsibility for the action. Understanding the potential outcomes for the decision made and sticking by the choice.





Moral Character

Persistence and determination, while ignoring fatigue or temptations to take the easy way out. Following through with the plan and standing by it at any point of time.



 

An Ethical Situation; What would I do? What would you do? There is no right or wrong.


In a summer club, I was given an ethical question to start a valuable conversation. I found it really interesting how different people had different points of views, and how surprisingly, everybody had a strong point. You may have heard of this situation, but here is my opinion, and an opinion of a friend. You will see how different ethics lead to different outcomes, but none are right or wrong:

Imagine you are a train conductor. The brakes have failed, and the only thing you are capable of doing is switching tracks. On the current track you are going on, you will be killing 5 innocent people. However, if you decide to change tracks, you will kill one innocent person. What would you do?


My opinion: In my opinion, I would switch the tracks. The way I see it, sacrificing one life over five is the more appropriate option. Although both are extremely hard, I think that I have strong reasoning behind my choice. If I switch the tracks, the death will be on me, but I am ready to live with that, because I know that that is what my ethics bound me to do. I would know I killed the one person, but I would be able to tell myself that saving 5 lives is better then sacrificing one.


Friend's opinion: In his opinion, he thinks that leaving the tracks as is is the right choice. In his eyes, by switching the tracks, you are the one who is determining fate. If you let the tracks be, the 5 people were going to get hit in the first place, so you are not technically responsible for their deaths. He believes that if he switched tracks, the death will be on him, and he would not be able to live with himself knowing he switched the tracks and killed that person.


As you can see, both reasonings are correct in their own ways. Our ethics and morals are all written differently, and therefore we will always see problems in different ways, however none of those ways will be right or wrong. In ethical dilemmas, both options are negative, so you are deciding which one is better and which is worse.

 

Ethics in a Business or Company

Studies show that 38% of employees find "ethical standards" to be of first or second importance. But how can companies implement and encourage Ethics in the workplace?



Lead by Example

When all levels of management model decision making within the company, it will allow for a visual acceptance of what is acceptable versus what is not in the company. Workers will be able to visually understand the ethics of the company, and will therefore act as their leaders when put in similar situations.


Provide Resources That Actively Reinforce Ethics

Professional development days, as well as Workshops and training help staff to recognize many ethical dilemmas can help increase the importance and value of ethics in the workplace. Constant reminders will help maintain the use of ethics within the company.


Ask Employees to Write a Personal Code

Tell employees to write a Personal code of ethics, basically listing unethical things they would never do, as well as by listing what they would do in unfortunate situations. This could include how they would respond to sexual harassments, Opportunities to take credit for the work of others, or incentives for unethical behavior.


Rewarding Ethical Behavior

Studies have shown that incentives drive people to work better and harder. Rewarding and recognizing employees leads to greater employee engagement within the workplace, and will also motivate employees to stay ethical in tough situations.


 

Implementing Ethics in Conference Design

When two or more people work together, there Aare high chances of ethical dilemmas, where one persons morals lead them to one decision, and the others morals lead them to a completely different decision. When working with a partner for my conference, I always keep in mind that we have to meet in the middle. This means that even if we may have different points of views, we will try to combine them into one, strong, and mutually agreeable conclusion. Another thing that me and my partner do is split work. For example, when facing case studies with no right or wrong answer, we say "I'll do 2 questions, you do the other 2." Then, we don't interfere with what the other one is writing, we only help them edit or make their work better. In both cases, we try our best to have a 50-50 representation of ourselves, so that there is never one dominant point of view.

 

Overall, I can definitely say that Mackenzie's lecture really opened my eyes up to the ethical dilemmas that I may be facing in the future. I learned that you should always weigh the pros and cons of each and every decision, and then take full and complete responsibility for the following outcome. The workshop was informative, hands-on, applicable, and thoughtful, all at once, and I'm really thankful to be a part of such an amazing experience.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and if you want to reach out, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or shoot me a message on Instagram! I hope you have a great day😁!


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