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Exploring Societal Interaction with Emerging Technologies

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Socio-Technical Issues in Engineering

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Priya Balasubramanian Grand Valley State University

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Ms. Priya Balasubramanian is a visiting professor of electrical engineering department at Grand Valley State University. Her primary areas of teaching is digital systems and micro-controller programming. She joined her Alma-mater as a full time professor after completing her degree in Master of Science and engineering with an emphasis in biomedical engineering. During her graduate studies, she was involved in research at Van Andel Institute’s small animal imaging lab and the epilepsy monitoring unit at Spectrum health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was the recipient of Graduate Dean’s citation for academic excellence for an outstanding Master’s thesis. Her academic research explores signal processing and image processing of neural and cardiac bio-electric signals. She is currently working on using machine learning algorithms to process electroencephalography (EEG) data of patients suffering from epilepsy.

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Nael Barakat Grand Valley State University

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Dr. Nael Barakat is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Grand Rapids, MI. He is a registered professional engineer in Ontario, Canada, and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). His areas of interest include Controls, Robotics, Automation, Systems dynamics and Integration, Metrology, as well as Engineering Ethics, professionalism, and Education.
Dr. Barakat is currently the chair of the Technology and Society (T & S) Division of the ASME and current chair of the ASEE Ethics Division.

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Emerging technologies are an integral part of technological progress in this era. Research in emerging technologies is characterized as having a sudden or persistent impact on society by inducing far-reaching changes in an attempt to influence human quality of life. While scientific progress gets certain amount of leeway when research is concerned, as it is difficult to exactly predict the outcomes of a hypothesis till all avenues are explored, it also faces obstacles when research touches human safety or the concept of human life and dignity. Hence, progress in research of emerging technologies is strongly predisposed to the attitudes of society and perceptions of individuals. These perceptions, however, are prejudiced by political and religious opinions, among other reasons. Strong political opinions regarding emerging technologies might sound as representing the collective morality of individuals in the society, backed by a religious base. However, the basis for individual opinions differ based on multiple factors and the political or public opinion is usually a spin off reaction to majority of the common factors amongst these opinions. These factors include but are not limited to: public policy, political agenda and affiliations, individual morality based on religious beliefs, safety concerns and societal perceptions. Ethical questions that are associated with emerging technologies and the factors influencing individual opinions can be broadly classified as safety and welfare, political and religious agenda, and individual perception. A survey was created as part of a study aimed at ranking these factors that influence individuals in forming an opinion about an emerging technology. The purpose of the study was to provide knowledge that can be used by ethical engineers and scientists into applying innovation and creativity to help society arrive at properly informed middle ground solutions. The survey responders were asked to support or oppose an emerging technology. The opinions of their political leaders and religious leaders were included along with perception or image associated with that research while explaining the potential risks and benefits of the emerging technology. 82% of the responders said that the most important factor that influenced their decision was safety concerns and 61% said that negative or positive image associated with the research was the second factor. The survey ascertained that political and religious objection to emerging technology that seemed to be based on the moral bias of the society neither represent nor fuel the ethical objections to emerging technologies. When ethical debate of whether an emerging technology is road to salvation or disaster waiting to happen, is fueled by society’s perception of that technology, it can be observed that the fundamental cause for deliberation is not just political or religious misinformation. As knowledgeable citizens, the role of ethical engineers and scientists involved in research can be envisaged as going beyond educating society passively and becoming an essential part of helping society establish public policy regarding emerging technologies through properly informing society of the facts. In order for these public policies to move research and development past gridlocks of advancement based on prejudiced perception, they must encompass middle ground solutions.

Balasubramanian, P., & Barakat, N. (2016, June), Exploring Societal Interaction with Emerging Technologies Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26860

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