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Engineers consider ethics

New technologies melding biology with machines create new dilemmas

Eugene Russo(erusso@the-scientist.com)

Technologies related to biology, in particular nanotechnology and "neurotechnology," are among the major emerging research areas whose ethical implications engineers should consider more closely, concluded participants in a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) symposium in Washington, D.C. that concluded yesterday (October 15).

Although the engineering profession was one of the first to adopt a code of ethics, the field's focus has typically been on "microethical" issues—how individual engineers should deal with ethical dilemmas on the job—for example, conflicts of interest or duties to one's customer or employer, NAE President William Wulf told The Scientist.

"Macroethical" issues, such as how specific technologies affect society, which are typical fodder for biomedical ethicists, have not been emphasized in engineering education, via professional societies, or at the workplace, Wulf said.

"There's a gap in our understanding of macroethical issues," agreed coorganizer Deborah Johnson, a professor of applied ethics at the University of Virginia....

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