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Why Engineers Must Consider the Ethical Implications of Their Work 406

Posted by timothy
from the bad-things-good-uses-vice-versa dept.
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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Why Engineers Must Consider the Ethical Implications of Their Work

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  • Because... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:04PM (#45609939)

    They pay us like shit compared to doctors!

  • Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:05PM (#45609963)

    "I have become death, destroyer of worlds."

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:07PM (#45609989)
    The existence of nuclear bombs have saved millions of lives over the last 60 years. Sounds pretty ethical to me.
  • Like Radio? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by locust (6639) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:09PM (#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.

  • by stewsters (1406737) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:10PM (#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.
  • by tomhath (637240) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:12PM (#45610079)
    Saying an engineer shouldn't design a better weapon is like saying a doctor shouldn't treat a wounded soldier.
  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:16PM (#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:War Engines (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:17PM (#45610157) Homepage

    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:Well, no shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shoten (260439) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:17PM (#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...

  • by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:20PM (#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.

  • Lots of gray areas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:20PM (#45610227) Homepage

    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:They do (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:21PM (#45610231) Homepage

    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.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:21PM (#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:They do (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JeanCroix (99825) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:24PM (#45610289) Journal

    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:Because... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bberens (965711) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:31PM (#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.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:39PM (#45610489) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:41PM (#45610521) Homepage Journal

    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]

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:46PM (#45610599) Homepage Journal

    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...)

  • by bob_super (3391281) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:46PM (#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:Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:47PM (#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:Already does. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:48PM (#45610629) Journal

    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. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:53PM (#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:They do (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:54PM (#45610713) Journal

    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:Already does. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcw3 (649211) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:56PM (#45610737) Journal

    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.

  • by mounthood (993037) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:03PM (#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).

  • Re:War Engines (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cyn1c77 (928549) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:04PM (#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.

  • by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:15PM (#45611017)

    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.

    Yes, but who is this "we" group of people?

    Are you aware that all of humanity does not make decisions as a single group? The problem is, if we don't do it, someone else will.

  • Head in the sand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:19PM (#45611097)

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

    Really? Explain to me what purpose an M1 tank or an F22 fighter has besides killing people? What humanitarian purpose do land mines serve? Assault rifles? (target shooting? don't make me laugh) Hand grenades? Let's not pretend that the engineers working on these products have no idea what they will be used for. Plausible deniability does not apply to a lot of weapons.

    There are many technologies where the line between ethical and not-so-much is fuzzy but you hardly have to go to WMDs to get there.

  • Re:Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DexterIsADog (2954149) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:20PM (#45611113)
    I find it extraordinary that you believe engineers have the choice to "shelve their own projects" in any significant frequency, given that nearly all of the perform work for hire, and don't own what they create. And don't say "patents" to me - my name is on a small number of patents, and I have fuck-all say in how those things are used; I didn't even get my dollar for the patent rights!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:22PM (#45611145)

    Some of us choose not to design weapons. It isn't theoretical.

    Actually it is in a way. This strategy only works because you are protected by other engineers who design the weapons that protect you, whether you approve of those weapons or not.

    There is nothing wrong with your moral choice but lets face facts. Pacifists can only exits in absolute isolation or where they are protected by friendly non-pacifists. In the real world there will be unfriendly non-pacifists who will subjugate, enslave or kill you. Regrettably this is the way some humans are wired.

    In the book "Guns, germs, and steel" a warlike group of pacific islanders are mentioned. A subgroup colonizes a new island, loses contact with the original group and in isolation becomes pacifist. When contact is reestablished the subgroup is enslaved. This was done to blood relatives separated by only a small amount of time (in generational terms) with a common culture, language and religion.

  • Re:Well, no shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by photo pilot (3425097) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:27PM (#45611223)
    I think George Orwell summed it up thusly: People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. In other words don't sit around in a nice 1st world country and pretend it got that way by accident.
  • by Ghostworks (991012) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:45PM (#45611599)

    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?

    Whenever I read something like this, I immediately think of Florman's "Existential Pleasures of Engineering" [amazon.com] despite the title, Florman's book is rooted is actually a spirited apology for the engineering profession in an age where everyone was lamenting all the modern horrors that those damned engineers could have prevented if they had just be more ethical.

    As Florman notes, there has been a large focus for the past half-century on making engineers more ethically aware, and it's mostly pointless. Despite what most people seem to believe engineers are not philosopher kings any more than Technology is some sort of self-sufficient, self-empowering beast working counter to the benefits human society. Both do exactly what the rest of society tells (read: pays, begs, and orders) them to do, and nothing more. And while you don't see many engineers saying this -- because when someone tells them that they run the world and hold the future of all man kind in their hands, people are disinclined to temper their ego and deny it -- we only do what the suits pay us to do, and if we don't do that they fire us and move on to someone else who will.

    Let's ask this another way: why aren't business men considering the ethical implications of their investments? Why aren't militaries, bureaucracies, and governments considering the ethical implications of their orders? Why isn't the average person taking five minutes to understand a problem now so he doesn't demand government, the market, and God on high give him an answer that he's going to hate more than the original problem a year from now?

    Every profession has ethical considerations. More ink has been spilled and time spent on the subject of ethics in engineering and practical sciences than any discipline save medicine. And yet it does not solve the problem and will not solve the problem because that is not where the problem lies.

  • Re:Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@gma i l .com> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:47PM (#45611631)

    So a physician or nurse should just go ahead and help the CIA torture some poor goat herder in Gitmo, because they're not 'uniquely clever' and someone else could do it? Sorry, doesn't fly.

    If I don't feel something is ethical I won't do it. I don't care if the guy at the next desk over can do it or not, that has no bearing on my decision at all. **I** won't do it because I feel it's wrong.

  • Re:Because... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:55PM (#45611741) Journal

    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.

    Not really - You're basically saying there's no point in distancing yourself from anything because someone else might do it anyway.

    If you're an accountant and your boss is pressuring you to cook the books. There's no point quitting because if you leave, he'll just hire someone else who'll do what he wants. Right?
    =Smidge=

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @04:27PM (#45612111)

    Anyone producing nerve gas, or antipersonnel cluster munitions, or weaponized biological agents designed to actually be used (as opposed for research into how to counteract them) should definitely feel bad about what they're doing. These things have no other purpose than to be immorally used against people.

    Immorally?

    Why is nerve gas immoral? Compared to, say, being burned alive when a round lights up your gas tank? Turned into bite-sized chunks by artillery? Dying slowly and painfully from a small calibre wound to the gut?

    I'm calling bullshit, because this notion that some weapons are "bad" is bullshit. Either a death is a death, or you've got some ulterior motive up for discussion.

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @05:08PM (#45612585) Homepage Journal

    Vietnam is far from the biggest war after WWII - just the best known to Americans. Try the recent second Congo war, which killed over five million people.
    Yet most people here haven't even heard about it.

    I personally don't think that nuclear weapons have deterred much. USA, Soviet/Russia, China, United Kingdom and France all have been waging wars after WWII. You'd think that those would be the countries fighting the least post-WWII if that were the case.
    I think it's more that the huge big wars don't happen all that often in the first place.

  • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @05:53PM (#45613131)

    "I think everyone who understand what insurance actually is understands - at least implicitly - that they are subsidizing someone else. These people also understand that if they end up needing help, then others will be subsidizing them."

    No, and this is a common and tragic misunderstanding.

    Insurance is not designed for systematic subsidizing others of different risk profiles. It's not supposed to subsidize anyone on average at all. Yes, a single instance of covered peril will end up pulling money from other similar subscribers, but on average, in fact, everyone must lose.

    Whereas when the "risk pools" are forcibly intermingled by law, the low-risk people are systematically exploited to pay for the high-risk ones. What Medicaid, Social Security etc. have in common with obamacare is that they are also not "insurance" but wealth transfer.

    You're full of it. Insurance is ALL about spreading the risk. Over the population and over time. It is precisely the recent trend of narrowing pools to get all reward and no risk that have make such a hash not only of the insurance industry but of the people and businesses who were "cherry picked" and "lemon dropped". Recall the recent financial collapse. Not only did the industry fail, but the insurance underpinning the industry failed. And the insurance was supposed to reduce the damage done in case of a failure. Which is why the whole thing snowballed.

    Yes, there are one-shot policies such as travel insurance. But the term of most policies runs in years. Yesterday's young and healthy are tomorrow's old and infirm. That isn't "socialism", it's investing. Pure and simple. Depending on the plan, it may even pay dividends. An Insurance plan is intended to insure that you have an organized way of putting aside money, that it will be invested by the insurer to permit the insurer to be able to make a profit on that money (and maybe even return some of it), and finally, to deliver if and when you need the money. It's not primarily intended to be a casino or lottery, even though there are plans that run that way as well. A balanced plan will statistically be equivalent to having all of the money you saved up for your life's needs no matter what point in your life you end up needing. Because you never know when you're going to be hit by a truck, no matter how young and healthy you are. Or even meteorites, as a kid in South Florida recently discovered.

  • Re:Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kaladorn (514293) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @07:44PM (#45614217) Homepage Journal
    There are also a lot of areas where there isn't a clear ethical line.

    You work in petrochem. Are you killing the planet or providing necessary energy?
    You are an interior ballistics expert working for a swedish arms manufacturer (Hi Oerjan). The weapons can be used to stomp ruthless murderers and terrorists or it can be shot into crowded buses. Do you own all of that?
    You build dams. They provide power but they flood habitat. Are you doing something ethically good or bad?
    You develop car engines. Cars get people around. Your engine might save on greenhouse gases. But it furthers the automotive culture. Ehtical or not?

    I have written software for: Large HR system, massive multi-user gaming platform, 3G/4G network policy enforcement, massive online gaming platform where many of the games were slots, poker, etc, major federal police force dispatch and mobile computing software, point of sale systems, network management systems, RCAF Tactical Navigation Trainer, etc.

    I'd say at least half of the projects had some dodgy aspect somewhere in them (the online gambling one was the most distasteful but it was legal and thus within general public acceptance although I felt a bit slimy as did many developers). You can pick ethical issues out in most projects both in terms of the final product, the marketing, or the underlying model of operations that the invention supports.

    Do engineers own all of that? That's a lot to expect. If none of us worked on projects in any way dodgy ethically or morally, society would not have most of what it has today. I'd image a good 70% of technology would not exist.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:21PM (#45614861)

    For now they have. What happens when they get used? Don't tell me you've fallen for that MAD survivor's bias nonsense. The only reason the Cold War didn't destroy human civilization is luck. More than once it came down to the right man in the right place making the right call. We won't always be so lucky.

    And remember: we need to get lucky EVERY time. If we get unlucky just once, it's all over. Forever. All the easily accessible petroleum is gone. If we get unlucky, there will be no rebuilding of civilization. Our species will die.

"Look! There! Evil!.. pure and simple, total evil from the Eighth Dimension!" -- Buckaroo Banzai

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