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Ethics and Artifacts

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Technology and Design in Engaging and Analyzing Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Marilyn A. Dyrud Oregon Institute of Technology

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Marilyn Dyrud is a full professor in the Communication Department at Oregon Institute of Technology, where she has taught for nearly four decades. She has been a member of ASEE for 32 years and is active in the Engineering Ethics Division, as past chair, and the Engineering Technology Division, as communications editor the the Journal of Engineering Technology. She is an ASEE fellow (2008), winner of the James McGraw Award (2010), winner of the Berger Award (2013), and serves as the communications editor of the Journal of Engineering Technology. In addition to ASEE, she is active in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics and the Association for Business Communication.

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Engineers design stuff. And some of this stuff–cell phones, microwave ovens, automobiles–is part and parcel of our lives. We can hardly imagine life without technology–all products of engineering ingenuity. But is technology merely a tool or a representation of social, political, and ethical values? Do our artifacts reflect culture or help to create it?

This paper will explore the latter: that artifacts have values, an argument examined in detail by Langdon Winner, in his seminal 1986 The Whale and the Reactor. As Winner notes, the meaning of technology extends beyond simple usage; technologies play a role in reshaping that activity and hence changing its meaning. This echoes a sentiment expressed two decades earlier by Marshall McLuhan, that our tools reshape who we are as humans. The relationship is reciprocal: we shape our tools and they, in turn, shape us. If technological artifacts are indeed value-laden and shape cultural mores, this has significant repercussions for engineering educators. Our students cannot just design their stuff in a vacuum; they must consider how that particular item will reshape the persons using it.

Specifically, the paper will examine the following: • Theory • Cases • IBM and the mechanical tabulator • The Internet • Classroom integration Ethics is inherent in this topic, as each new technological invention is a triple-edged sword, with benefits, disadvantages, and unintended consequences. As budding engineers, our students must learn about designing for factors beyond simple usage.

Dyrud, M. A. (2017, June), Ethics and Artifacts Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28298

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