Values in Engineering and Technology Education–M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in The Indian Journal of Technical Education, July-Sep 2012]

Abstract:

Science and Technology is one of the most powerful and formative forces of our modern age.  Much has been said and written on the beneficent and destructive potentialities of this great power. But what is not fully recognized is that much of the destructive impact of modern science and technology could have been minimized and its beneficent potential maximized, if the modern mind had bestowed greater attention to the task of shaping the right values in science and technology.  For technology is only a tool and how it is used depends on the values of its user.  And these values, to be effective, have to become part of technical education.  This article provides a conceptual framework for evolving a system of guiding values that can be incorporated in engineering and technology education and which can lead to excellence in the professional work of the engineer or technocrat and the beneficent use of technology.  The main focus of the article is not on the pedagogic aspects of education but on the content and curriculum.  The article begins with a historical review of ethical awakening in the engineering profession, followed by a brief discussion on discovering the right system of guiding values for its education.  These values and their implications are discussed further in a holistic perspective with an emphasis on future trends.

Key Perspectives:

Ethics in engineering; values for excellence; honesty and transparency; knowledge and competence; innovation; ecological sustainability; quality and the human face

Introduction

A promising trend in emerging currents of thought is an increasing recognition of the importance of ethics and values, especially in education, management and business.  However there is not yet equal and sufficient awakening to this crucial factor in engineering and technology education.  At present, following the financial crisis in US, there is a growing recognition among management educators that ethics and values have to become a part of the MBA curriculum.  Many schools all over the world, including the prestigious Harvard Business School have made, “Business Ethics” either a compulsory or optional subject in their MBA curriculum.(1) A similar initiative is needed in engineering and technology education.  However, most of the professional bodies in engineering, like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, (IEEE) have Codes of Ethics, which can provide valuable information and insight for evolving a system of values for the engineering profession.

This concept of “Engineering Ethics” which will be discussed in some detail in this article, dates back to the end of the 19th century when the National Society of Professional Engineers, formed the Board of Ethical Review in 1954.(2)  But these ethical and value-laden issues and concerns related to the engineering profession have not percolated into engineering and technology education, except perhaps in a few institutions in the West.    The objective of this article is to provide a conceptual basis for further discussion and research on values that can lead to the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual elevation of educational and professional work in engineering and technology.

Ethics in Engineering

Our habitual mental notions or associations tend to equate ethics with values.  Ethics is undoubtedly an important part of all value-centric thinking.  We can even say ethics is the heart and core of value-driven life.  But for a pragmatic and application oriented activity like engineering and technology, we need a broader definition of values than ethics.  I will come to this subject a little later.  Let us first examine how the technical mind of modern humanity has approached the problem of ethics in a historical perspective.  As I have indicated earlier a discerning review of the codes of ethics formulated by professional engineering guilds can provide important clues for evolving a holistic system of values for the guidance of professional work in engineering and technology.  Another advantage of this perspective is that a clear understanding of the moral evolution of the engineering profession provides a firm foundation for building a structure of value education in engineering and technology.

Engineering ethics is the field of applied ethics which examines and sets standards for an engineer’s obligations to the public, his clients, employers and the profession.  Somewhere in the late 19th century the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) released its canons of Ethics and values of professional conduct for Engineers, which evolved to the Current Code of Ethics adopted in 1964.   It is a comprehensive document which includes not only ethical but also social and environmental issues related to the engineering profession.  Most of it is in the form of do’s and don’ts and aims at ensuring a scrupulous honesty, integrity and transparency in the engineering profession.  Let us have a brief look at some of its edicts:

Fundamental Canons

Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:

  • Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
  • Perform services only in areas of their competence.
  • Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  • Avoid deceptive acts.
  • Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.

Rules of Practice

  • If engineers’ judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate.
  • Engineers shall not aid or abet any unlawful practice of engineering by a person or firm
  • Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimony. They shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports, statements, or testimony, which should bear the date indicating when it was current.
  • Engineers shall issue no statements, criticisms, or arguments on technical matters that are inspired or paid for by interested parties, unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters.

Other engineering associations also have a more or less similar code of ethics.  For example the American Society of Civil Engineers have the following edicts as their Fundamental Canons:

  • “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.
  • Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.
  • Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
  • Engineers shall act in such a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession and shall act with zero-tolerance for bribery, fraud, and corruption.
  • Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers, and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.” (4)

An important and a more or less universally accepted principle in all these codes of ethics is that for the engineer, public safety, health and welfare is of paramount concern and much more important than the interest of the customer or client.  The engineer has to courageously and persistently blow the whistle whenever and wherever he observes or perceives with his special knowledge anything which may jeopardize public safety or well-being.  Here are some illustrative codes:

Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO): “A practitioner shall regard the practitioner’s duty to public welfare as paramount.”

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME): “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.”

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE): “To achieve these goals, members shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and protect the environment in performance of their professional duties.” (5)

The main objective of this brief review of engineering ethics is to arrive at some clarity and understanding of the nature of the temper and attitude of the engineering profession to ethical and value-related issue.  The would-be engineer or technocrat in the college has to be exposed to a more extensive discussion on this subject, which will help him to understand the ethical issues confronting his profession.  Some people may raise doubts regarding the practical validity of such discussions.  They may ask, “It is very easy to have countless number of noble edicts in paper, but how many of them are put into practice?” We have to admit that knowing the right thing is much easier than actually doing it.  As a Christian mystic said, “How less difficult are pious reveries than upright actions.”  However, from an educational perspective, exposing the student-engineer to the ethical problems and issues which he or she is likely to encounter in practice and initiating an enquiry into the nature of highest right and good can lead to moral awakening in the learner; it awakens the inherent and intrinsic urge to do good which is there in every human being.  Interestingly this issue was raised in the Ethics Round Table discussion in IEEE SPECTRUM, journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  One of the participants in the discussion observes:

“As we watch this ethics infra­structure growing exponentially, with hotlines and these long, printed codes of ethics distributed to employees, and so on, is there some danger of this whole infrastructure getting to be terribly per­functory – honored more in the breach than in the observation? Is there anything more we can do to guard against that?”

Other participants, first, Carl Mitcham, editor, Research in Philosophy and Technology of IEEE Spectrum and a teacher of Engineering Ethics, and then Philips H. Unger, Moderator of the discussion, respond to the question:

“MITCHAM: Let me comment on that as a person who teaches engineering ethics and social issues to engineers on a regular basis. My experience with engineering stu­dents is that by and large they want to do something good for humanity and the world as a whole. The problem is that they have rather narrow ideas about what the good is. I find that it’s useful and helpful to promote some critical reflection about the social context within which they work.

UNGER: Speaking of students, you might be interested to know that for the original IEEE ethics code, the 1974 ver­sion, the initial draft came from students of mine in my technology and society seminar. (6)

Values for Excellence

As I have indicated earlier, ethics is only any one aspect or subset of Values.  This brings us to the meaning of “values” and the aims or objectives of a value-system for a professional activity like Engineering and Technology.  There are many definitions and angles on the concept of values.  For example, Ayn Rand, the well-known novelist and author, defines values as a code of conduct or principles “to guide man’s choices and actions, the choices and actions that determine the course of his life” and the main aim of a science of values is “discovering and defining such a code.”(7) Jack Welch, former CEO of GEC, defines values in a simple and pragmatic perspective as “guidelines for behaviour”(8)

The value-systems for a pragmatic and application oriented activity like engineering cannot be entirely moralistic or ethical; it must include the pragmatic and professional aims of the activity, in other words it must have professional as well as moral aims.  We may conceive the professional aim as Excellence and Effectiveness in professional work.  Interestingly, a study by Bugliarello, which examined the Megatrends in Engineering Education for the 21st century, lists, “Search for Excellence” as one of the trends.(9) The moral aim could be public wellbeing. As I have indicated earlier, most of the engineering associations consider public health, safety and welfare as the primary ethical values of the engineering profession.

Based on these perspectives as discussed above and in the context of Engineering and Technology, we may define Values as the guiding principle for achieving excellence and effectiveness in the engineering profession, and which will lead to the highest well being of the community.  Based on this definition of values, we may identify the following guiding principles for the engineering and technology profession.

  1. Honesty and Transparency
  2. Knowledge and Competence
  3. Innovation
  4. Ecological Sustainability.
  5. Quality and the Human Face

Every professional activity like engineering involves two major stages: execution and delivery, in other words, process and the product, that is, service or a completed project.  The values we have listed earlier have to be sustained at both these stages.  However in professional work like engineering, attention to the process is more important than the product or service because the quality of the product or service depends on the quality of the process, which gives birth to it. So if the values, quality or excellence is persistently maintained in the process, we need not bother much about the quality of the product or service.  In an ethical or philosophical perspective this principle is expressed as “means is more important than the end” or “if we are able to get the process right then we can forget about the results.”  This principle is now recognized in modern management thought.  It is known as process management or process enterprise.  The core-idea of a process enterprise is that once the objectives and goals are fixed and oriented towards customer satisfaction then the main focus has to be on managing and perfecting the process which leads to the goal.  In a process enterprise, as Michael Hammer the inventor of reengineering points out, focus shifts from “unit-goals” to “process-goals”. (10)

Honesty and Transparency

Truth is the foundation of all values.  Integrity, honesty and transparency are the basis of trust and trust is the source of effective and enduring relationship between people or with the customer.  So honesty and transparency have to be maintained at every stage, process or activity of the professional work of the engineer, for example procurement of materials, relationship with the government, people, worker or the customer or drawing of specifications.  Any discrepancy, error or lapse in integrity has to be transparently exposed and corrected at the very first occurrence.  The ethical codes of Engineering Associations, which we have discussed earlier, strongly emphasise this need for honesty.  For example, NSPE code of ethics identifies every possible ethical deviations which can happen in the engineering profession and says, don’t do them.  However in practice, many engineers justify such deviations, for example giving bribes, that it is unavoidable or necessary.  The student-engineer has to be given the right education and guidance on how to bridge this gap between the ideal and practice, not by giving moral sermons but through a process of enquiry, questioning, debate, discussion and case studies.  The last one, case studies can be a very useful method for initiating enquiry on ethical issues.  However the type of case studies that can have a positive impact on the ethical motivation of the individual are those which convey that honesty and integrity ultimately lead to professional success, even though there may be temporary difficulties on the way.  Here are two such illustrative examples:

A Civil Contractor, persuaded by his spiritually inclined wife and his Guru, decided not to give bribes and conduct his business with complete honesty.  The initial impact of the decision was negative.  His business began to collapse.  His financial condition deteriorated.  But still he persisted in his resolution to be honest.  His reputation for honesty spread in business and government circles.  Again he started getting contracts, business flourished and became better than what it was when he was doing it without any scruples.

Another example is from the housing division of a Chennai-based firm well known for its value-based policies.  The company was not able to hand over the flats to the customer at the promised date because of prolonged delays in getting sanction for electrical works from the electricity board.  The company was determined not to take the easy and customary path of greasing the palms of government officials.  The company wrote letters to the authorities of the electricity board and also explained their principled position to the customer.  A small group of understanding and sympathetic customers wrote letters to the highest political and government authorities, demanding immediate action.  And finally the moral force behind the company’s decision triumphed.  The company got the sanction for the electrical works without compromising on its principles.

Knowledge and Competence

But a modern professional like an engineer is not a cloistered monk.  He is a knowledge-worker who has to deliver results in a highly competitive and demanding corporate environment.  So for a professional, honesty is not enough to attain excellence.  He must have knowledge and competence to deliver results.  So pursuit of knowledge has to be an integral part of the value-system of a knowledge-worker like the engineer and the technocrat.  One of the edicts of NSPE Code of Ethics states: “Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and should keep current in their specialty fields by engaging in professional practice, participating in continuing education courses, reading in the technical literature, and attending professional meetings and seminars” This means, pursuit of knowledge is also considered an ethical value for the engineer.

There are three types of knowledge, which a professional has to possess for achieving excellence.  The first one is the specialized technical knowledge of the specific professional activity he is engaged in, for example software or telecom or CAD.  The second type of knowledge is a basic understanding of sciences or technologies related to the first one.  For example a software engineer can enhance his professional effectiveness by studying philosophical, linguistic and mathematical logic, especially the logic of ancient Indian grammarians like Panini.  Similarly a civil or mechanical engineer engaged in field-work or on the shop-floor will be greatly benefited by having a practical knowledge of electrical engineering.  And for building a safe and healthy future world, every engineer must have a sound, theoretical and practical knowledge of modern ecology and environmental sciences.

The third type of knowledge is a broad and holistic understanding of the higher ideal, values and purpose of the profession.  For example, an engineer or technocrat  much have some clarity regarding the higher purpose of technology in the evolutionary destiny of humanity and the earth.(12) This is something, which is lacking in modern professional work and studies.  Here comes the importance of the ancient Indian concept of the Shastra.

In ancient India every professional activity is put under the yoke of the Shastra.  A Shastra, in ancient Indian thought is a holistic perspective of a human or cosmic activity, which contains three types of knowledge.  First is a spiritual perspective which views the purpose of the activity in the context of the highest spiritual aim of life; second is an ethical or dharmic perspective which elucidates the moral, aesthetic and professional values and standards under which the activity has to be performed; third is the professional perspective which expounds the scientific, technical and skills dimensions of knowledge.  Modern professional systems of knowledge would benefit immensely if they can incorporate this ancient Indian concept of Shastra with suitable modifications into their conceptual, educational and executive strategies.

However, knowledge remains abstract and ineffective without competence.  We may define competence as the ability to apply knowledge to deliver results.  Here again there are two types of professional competence.  One is the technical competence, for example, in solving technical problems or finding new ways to improve efficiency, economy and productivity of technical systems and processes in production.  In our present corporate environment economy is an important part of efficiency so the engineer has to be cost conscious and cost-effective.  Bugliarello’s study on the megatrends impacting engineering education identifies, “relentless cost reductions”(13), as one of the trends.  In fact, it has to be something much more than cost-reduction.  The engineer of the future must be able to arrive at the right balance or trade off between cost, quality, technical excellence and customer satisfaction.

The second type of knowledge is the “soft” management skills in planning, scheduling, time-management, interpersonal relationship, communication, ability to work in a team, man-management and the ability to focus all our attention on the task, in other words, concentration.  For a technocrat, technical competence is of the utmost importance.  But in the present competitive corporate environment where “Customer is the King” technical competence may not lead to commercial success without the other two competencies.  So efficiency, economy, productivity, result-orientation, and management skills, are the different facets of competence.

These competencies develop fully only through actual field experience and practice.  However the student-technocrat has to be given a clear understanding of the need and nature of these competencies and some practical experience through exposure to the industry.  Here comes the importance of institutional collaboration with industry.  There are two role models of institution-industry collaboration.  The first one is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and a similar model in India is the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).  The aim of this model is to create high IQ engineers with a strong theoretical grounding, trained mainly for high-tech, research and development, design and consultancy jobs.  The methodology is primarily through classroom instruction and training in well-equipped, state-of-the art laboratories, with opportunities for participation in industry-sponsored research and consultancy.

The second one is the German model of technical education and a similar type is the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) in Pilani, India.  In this model, the aim is to produce industry-compatible engineers, trained for mainstream, operational jobs in the Industry, for example in manufacturing or maintenance.  The methodology is a balanced blend of theory and practice with a judicious combination of classroom instruction and industrial training, along with soft skills such as teamwork, report writing.(14)

But, in most of the engineering and technology institutions in India, there are large gaps and inadequacies in building the right kind of knowledge and competency among students.  The syllabus is more or less exclusively theoretical.  For example if I am a graduate student in the electrical engineering stream I study electromagnetic theory, electrostatic theory, electrical machine theory, but when I pass out and enter into the industry, I do not know how to fix the flawed push button of a motor! This predominant theoretical orientation may not itself be a defect.  But this type of theory, curriculum and examination system in second-tier engineering colleges prepare the student neither for the high-tech research and developmental jobs as the MIT-IIT model does nor for the relatively low-tech operational jobs as in the German-BITS model.  Most of these technical institutions may not have the resources of IIT, MIT or BITS to create something better.  But the yawning gap between the classroom theory and industry reality can be considerably reduced if there is greater involvement and participation of practicing or retired engineers in teaching and in preparation of the syllabus, textbook, study material and case studies.

Innovation

The word “engineering” is derived from a Latin word meaning “innovation”.  So innovation is a core value of engineering.  But what precisely is “innovation”?  In simple terms it means adding or creating something new.

There are three types of innovation.  First is the incremental innovation in improving efficiency, productivity, and economy of an existing product, process or service.  For example a better lubrication system, which reduces the amount and cost of lubricants and at the same time enhances the efficiency of the machine, is an incremental innovation.  As we have indicated earlier this type of innovation is an intrinsic part of the professional dharma of an engineer.

The second type of innovation is “evolutionary”, which builds on what is known but at the same time adds significant new value to the process or product.  The compact, fuel-efficient and environmental-friendly Japanese cars, which invaded the American market in the eighties and recently Tata’s Nano, are examples of evolutionary innovation.

The third type of innovation is the “breakthrough” innovations, which lead to a radically new product, process, or technology.  Sony’s Walkman, invention of the microchip by Robert Noyce and Kim Philby, and fuel cell based vehicles are examples of break-through innovations.  Ideally, an engineer or an engineering organization must constantly strive towards all these three types of innovation.  The third type of innovation mostly proceeds from individual genius or the collective work of highly qualified and talented scientists and technocrats.(15) But every engineer or engineering group can and must strive for constant advancement in the first two categories of innovations.  Interestingly a school of modern management thought conceives innovation as a continuous and unrelenting quest for the new and better in every activity of the corporate life.  For example, as Kito de Boer, a Mckinsy consultant states:

 “To us at Mckinsy, innovation is much more than product development or R&D.  Innovation goes to the heart of sustaining corporate advantage through the process of continuous change and renewal.  It has far more to do with continually challenging the status-quo and pushing for corporate renewal than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.” (16)

There is a spiritual element in this Mckinsy’s concept of innovation.  The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram states, “In works, aspiration for perfection is true spirituality” and defines perfection as “a constant will for progress in work.”  (17) So if this constant search for better and perpetual renewal can be deepened into an attitude of progressive perfection in work and in every activity for its own sake without seeking for any immediate pragmatic results, it can be a source of spiritual progress for the individual and the collectivity.

How to awaken the engineering student to the need and nature of innovation?  Apart from case studies, a historical and biographical account of major technological innovations and great innovators can be a great help in this task.  Another important factor to be noted here is that, innovation requires something more than knowledge and competence; it requires imagination and intuition.  As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”(18) The first type of incremental innovation can be achieved to a certain extent through knowledge and competence.  But even here, to attain excellence, there must be the ability to look at things from angles that are different from the routine, customary, and traditional, and this requires imagination.  The other two types of innovation require a much greater component of imagination and intuition.  So cultivation of these two non-rational faculties has to become an integral part of the education and training programme for engineers.

Ecological Sustainability

Ecological sustainability will be one of the core values of the future world.  The Battelite Institute study on engineering education challenges of the 21st Century identifies, “environmental protection” as one of the challenges and specifies the main challenge, “to expand and simplify recycling programmes and development of clean manufacturing process.”(19)  There are three domains of ecological knowledge which have to be incorporated in engineering and technology education. First is emerging trends; second the major domains where the technocrat can make a crucial contribution to the sustainability of our planet; and third is the need for a deeper and inner communion with nature.  As we have indicated earlier, every engineer should have some basic understanding of ecology, in simple language, how Nature works.  The main task or aim of the eco-technologist is to imitate or incorporate the wiser methods, process and technologies of Nature in human technological, economic and social system.  This is already happening in the various branches of science, engineering and technology.  The science writer Robert Frenay documents this new trend in science and technology in his book “Pulse: How Nature is inspiring the Technology of the 21st Century.”  Using vivid examples from cutting-edge science and technology, Frenay shows how as our culture begins to link seamlessly with nature, the old clash between those who revere the natural environment and those who laud technology is coming to an end.  The future will bring a new technology, inspired by the living things and process of Nature and blends harmoniously with the natural world.(20)

This is an ideal or potential, which lies in the womb of the future.  But for the present, what are the practical contributions, which an engineer can make for enhancing the ecological sustainability of our planet?  There are four areas in which the technocrat can make positive contributions.  First, in the realm of energy conservation: a constant, unceasing and innovative effort to reduce energy consumption at every stage or activity, and wherever possible, in his professional work as an engineer and collectively, in the technical or engineering work or process in an organization.  The second area is in replacing non-renewable energy like coal or oil with renewable energies like solar or wind.  The third area is in recycling waste.  In Nature, nothing goes waste.  The waste of one organism becomes the food of another.  So, the eco-technologist, has to constantly exercise his innovative and creative faculties to minimize and recycle waste.  The fourth domain is in finding the right balance between the three E’s – Engineering, Ecology and Economics.

There is one more factor, which is not yet fully recognized in modern environmental education. Ecological awareness consists of not only understanding Nature but also loving Nature.  Our ecological sensibilities will not attain its highest potential and creativity if it doesn’t develop the emotional and aesthetic feeling, flowing out in love for the beauty of Nature.  This emotional feeling for Nature has to be further deepened into a spiritual identity with the living consciousness of Nature.

Quality and the Human Face

Technology can no longer remain indifferent or neutral to qualitative human values.  And in the future, it is this human factor which will determine the commercial viability of a technology.  As Bugliarello’s study of megatrends in technology points out, “The leveling of technology as a part of the landscape is likely to lead to greater emphasis on the human element.” (21)

The concept of quality can be looked at from various angles and defined in many ways.  For example, there is the well-known concept of Total Quality Management.  However for the present theme of our discussion we may view the concept of quality in terms of three dimensions – technical, aesthetic and human.

Technical quality may be conceived in terms of reliability, durability and other technical features of the product or process.  For example, some home appliances, like the fan or blenders manufactured during the 1970s, had a sturdiness and durability we are not able to find in similar products we see in the market today.  On the other hand the latest trends in manufacturing technology with techniques like Computer Aided Manufacturing and Lean Manufacturing display a much greater technical sophistication than the manufacturing techniques of the 70s or 80s.

The second aspect of quality is aesthetics, which is acquiring  increasing recognition and importance in the present highly competitive corporate environment.  There is a perceptible improvement in the aesthetic quality of the external appearance of products such as cars and computers.   In future, as the technical quality of the product gets more and more generalized, it is this aesthetic quality that will determine the customer’s choice.  Bugliarello’s study mentions “aesthetic differentiation of industrial parts” as one of the megatrends impacting engineering education in the 21st Century.(22) But in an integral perspective aesthetics is much more than mere product design or packaging, it means creating beauty and harmony in every activity of human life.  In the corporate world, it means beautiful and harmonious equipment, with consideration to the material and economic environment of the organization.  In engineering, technology and production, it means to perform every activity – from procurement of material, plant layout, engineering, design, manufacturing, maintenance or erection and commissioning, to product design and packaging – with a sense of beauty and harmony.  When things are organized and activities are done with this total aesthetic sense and vision, it creates an aura of subtle beauty in the organization and around the product or service, which gives an added attraction to the customer.

The third aspect of quality is human satisfaction, in other words, the extent to which a product, process or service satisfies human needs.  Technology must ultimately serve human needs or human well-being.  There are three groups the technocrat has to keep in mind in his work.  If he is engaged in design, construction or erection of buildings or industrial plants, or equipment and machinery, then it is the people who use, operate or manage this equipment or live in the building or plant.  The design, layout, work-environment and the man-machine interface must lead to maximum comfort to the people and a harmonious interaction between man, machine and the material environment.  But this should not be a dehumanizing harmony in which man becomes an insignificant cog in a massive technological machinery.  It must be a harmony in which Man is the master and the machine is his servant, serving human needs.  This sensitivity to the human element is totally lacking in most engineering education.  Fresh and innovative thinking in pedagogy is required to awake the technocrat to this human dimension.

The other human group is the Customer.  In our contemporary corporate environment, the customer community is the most important human group.  The technical expert, genius, or idealist seeks technical perfection for its own sake.  But in the corporate world, technical perfection the customer doesn’t want, or is unwilling to pay for, will end in commercial failure.  There are many such products in the corporate world, which though technical marvels in innovation, design or features, bombed in the market because customers did not want it or were unwilling to pay for it.  A classic example is the Polaroid camera, which gives instant photo prints.  It is a technically superb product, which if it had gained the acceptance of the mass-market, would have made the photo-studio obsolete.  But ultimately it failed in the market with the advent of the digital camera.  The customer seems to be not interested or unwilling to have an instant photo print or to pay the costly price for a complex and cumbersome camera.  She is happy and satisfied seeing her digital image in a simple and compact camera and ready to wait for the print! So the corporate technocrat must understand the actual needs and expectations of the customer, the price she is willing to pay for it and reverse engineer the product or service, tailoring it to customer needs.  The student engineer has to be awakened to these corporate realities.

The third human group is the community in which the company is situated.  The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which demands that the corporate world include the community as an important stakeholder of the company, is gaining increasing recognition in corporate circles.  So it is not enough to focus on customer needs.  The products and services of the company must lead to ecological and human well-being in the surrounding community or at the least should not damage societal well-being.  The technology policies and strategies of a company must give conscious consideration to this value of societal and human wellbeing.  Similarly in community development, the development engineer has to carefully study the concept of Appropriate Technology propounded by Swedish economist E.F. Schumacher.  According to this philosophy, the design and choice of technology have to be tailored to the unique economic, ecological, social and cultural needs, values and life-styles of the community. (23)

Here also, as with ecological awareness, our humanism, to reach its highest creative potential, has to progress further from the scientific, technical and pragmatic levels towards the emotional and spiritual, leading to an inner solidarity with whole of humanity and a feeling of universal love which flows spontaneously from this inner unity. The great scientist Albert Einstein constantly emphasized this human factor in many of his writing and talks.  In one of his talks Einstein said to students of applied science, that the aim of all science and technology is to care for human well being, never forget it amidst your equations and gadget. (24)

So the engineer of the future and the student-engineer in the college must have the ability to assess the immediate and long-term consequences of his inventions and decisions for the human and ecological well-being of the community and the planet. This requires something more than mere technical knowledge or analysis; it needs a holistic insight or intuition that transcends analytical reason.

Conclusion

Engineering and technology is one of the most dominant, powerful and influential professional activity of our modern age.  And such a crucial professional occupation cannot be neutral and indifferent to ethics and values.  So it has to discover a system of values in harmony with its intrinsic nature, values that have to be incorporated in engineering and technology education.  This article identifies excellence and wellbeing as the aims of the engineering and technology profession and conceives a system of values made up of five limbs for achieving these aims.  This author believes that if these values are incorporated into engineering and technology education it will lead to the mental, moral and spiritual elevation of the engineering profession as a whole.

References:

  1. Podolny J.M, The Buck Stop (and starts) at Business school, Harvard Business Review, June 2009.
  2. National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE): http://www.nspe.org/ethics
  3. NSPE: Code of Ethics
  4. Layton E.T, (1986) Engineering Ethics and the Public Interest, Albert Hares (ed) Ethical Problems in Engineering, pp.26-29
  5.  Ibid
  6.  Micham.C (1996) Doing the Right Thing, IEEE SPECTRUM, Journal of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, December, P.32
  7.  Ayn Rand, On Ethics, Genesis, Journal of Alacarity Foundation, 1995, pp.27-29
  8.  Welch.J. Winning (2005),  Harper Collins, p.28
  9.  Natarajan.R, (1999) Science, Technology and Challenges of 21st Century, University New, 37/20, May 17, p.7-12
  10.  Hammer.H and Stanton.S, How Process Enterprises Really Work, Harvard Business Review, November-December, 1999, p.108-120
  11.  NSPE, Code of Ethics
  12.  Srinivasan. M.S. (2008) The Higher Purpose of Technology, Bulletin of Association of Consulting Civil Engineers, April-June, p.8-9
  13.  Natarajan.R, (1999) Science, Technology and Challenges of 21st Century, University New, 37/20, May 17, p.7-12
  14.  Chaturvedi.P.K, (2000) German Model of Producing Industry-Compatible Engineer University News, 38(39), September 25, 38 (39), p.7-11
  15.  Kito De Boer, Innovation Myopia, The Great Leap Forward, Innovation for Corporate Renaissance, All India Management Association, Excel Book p.
  16.  Ibid
  17.  The Mother, Collected Works, Vol.14, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, p.
  18.  Issacson Walter, Einsten,  His Life and Universe, Simon & Schumacher Paperbacks, New York, pp. 3
  19.  Batelite Institute Study; http://www.battelle.org/news/97/drivers2.stm
  20.  Frenay Robert (2006), Pulse: How Nature is Inspiring Technology of the 21st Century, Little Brown, London, p.xi to xvii
  21.  Natarajan.R, (1999) Science, Technology and Challenges of 21st Century, University New, 37/20, May 17, p.7-12
  22.  Ibid
  23.  Schumacher E.F, Small is Beautiful, India Book Distributors, London, p. 143-160
  24.  Natarajan.R, (1999) Science, Technology and Challenges of 21st Century, University New, 37/20, May 17, p.487.
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