VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

Phoenix Perry: Forward Futures

There were a lot of very technical talks at Hackaday Belgrade. That’s no surprise, this is Hackaday after all. But every once in a while it’s good to lift our heads up from the bench, blow away some of the solder smoke, and remind ourselves of the reason that we’re working on the next cool project. Try to take in the big picture. Why are you hacking?

image5[Phoenix Perry] raised a lot of big-think points in her talk, and she’s definitely hacking in order to bring more women into the field and make the creation of technology more accessible to everyone. Lofty goals, and not a project that’s going to be finished up this weekend. But if you’re going to make a positive difference in the world through what you love to do, it’s good to dream big and keep the large goal on your mind.

[Phoenix] is an engineer by training, game-coder by avocation, and a teacher for all the right reasons. She’s led a number of great workshops around the intersection of art and technology: from physical controllers for self-coded games to interactive music synthesis devices disguised as room-sized geodesic domes. And she is the founder of the Code Liberation Foundation, a foundation aimed at teaching women technology through game coding. On one hand, she’s a hacker, but on the other she’s got her eyes on a larger social goal.

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No Sex Please, We’re Robots

There was a time when technology would advance and launch debates over ethical concerns raised by the technology. Lately, however, it seems ethical debate is (I hope) in advance of the actual technology. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Case in point: A paper at Ethicomp 2015 from De Montfort University warns that having sex with robots may have negative effects on par with prostitution. You might think that this is an isolated academic concept, but apparently there is a conference titled The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots. There’s even a 2008 book titled Love and Sex with Robots that is neither science fiction nor pornography.

Second case: Softbank has created a robot called [Pepper] that supposedly can understand human emotions. You know the license agreements you get with everything you buy that you don’t really read? Here’s a translation of part of the one that comes with [Pepper]: ” …owner must not perform any sexual act or other indecent behavior.

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Ethics In Engineering: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fiasco

Every so often – and usually not under the best of circumstance – the field of engineering as a whole is presented with a teaching moment. Volkswagen is currently embroiled in a huge scandal involving emissions testing of 11 Million diesel cars sold in recent years. It’s a problem that could cost VW dearly, to the tune of eighteen Billion dollars in the US alone, and will, without a doubt, end the careers of more than a few Volkswagen employees. In terms of automotive scandals, this is bigger than Unsafe at Any Speed. This is a bigger scandal than the Ford Pinto’s proclivity to explode. This is engineering history in the making, and an enormously teachable moment for ethics in engineering.

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