Social Responsibility of Engineers

Table of Contents

Recently, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people talking about the social responsibility of engineers. A combination of viewpoints has been presented instigating from careful objection to working on a computer system that might be employed for negative purposes at one end of the scale. At the other end, there is a viewpoint of no worries about the use of an individual’s work. But, experts are of the opinion that people argue about the implied hypothesis that there is a hazard to the existence of our civilization due to social institutions. This apparent abrupt increase in the interest towards the social responsibility of computer scientists was headed by a long and shifting development of concern for social responsibility in engineering and science.

What basically is social responsibility?

Social responsibility is a moral agenda and it proposes that a unit, irrespective of whether it is an individual or an organization, has a responsibility to act for the benefit of the society at large. It is the onus that every individual has to perform with a view to maintaining a balance between the ecosystems and economy. An exchange may occur between the economic development in the material sense and the well-being of the environment and the society. However, this has been confronted by many reports over the past 10 years or so. Social responsibility is something that sustains the equilibrium between the two. It is something that not only relates to the business organizations, but also to everyone, whose activities have an effect on the environment. This accountability need not essentially be active and it can also be passive.

Difference between social responsibility of citizens in general and that of specialists:

In a democratic country like India, each citizen holds the responsibility to keep him/her aware of the crucial issues in the country. This is something important for them to stay prepared to make wise decisions with respect to electing public officials and in the voting on fundamental policies. Professionals like engineers, of course, share the fundamental responsibility with all other citizens of the nation. In addition, they have some special responsibilities towards the society as well. The reason is that they have special knowledge that is not readily accessible to a layman.

What social responsibilities do engineers share?

Without any doubt, technology is making changes in the organization of any society these days. It is not that we should expect engineers to turn into sociologists. However, we can expect them to ask questions and they should take steps to solve some social issues with the special knowledge they have on certain aspects. Each engineer should ask himself about his/her specialty that fits in the development of new knowledge or devices that might affect the society. He/she also holds the responsibility to consider the problems that might come up in the future because of the application of the knowledge.

Common view:

A common view prevails among the public when talking about the social responsibility of engineers. Accordingly, it is believed that engineers are morally responsible for the negative outcomes from the application of their knowledge and invention. The question most common people ask is that if engineers are able to take personal delight in the good outcomes due to their efforts, why should they escape the responsibility for the opposite results pertaining to the use or abuse of technological advancements? In addition, it is argued by the general public that engineers have a joint accountability for the choice and carrying out of their work.

In most places, engineering committees generally get together in planning corporate and government research programs, inclusive of those that are devoted towards the development of weapons and military technologies. In fact, many engineering societies In India have their own set of ethical guidelines for conducting research in engineering. Without any doubt, there is an acknowledgment that engineers, regardless of whether they function as a group or separately have a special and much better responsibility as against average citizens pertaining to the generation and the use of scientific knowledge.

Should engineers be blamed?

It is a widely accepted fact that engineers hold special responsibility in the society. But, the unfortunate thing is that they are blamed for all evils caused by technological innovations. This should not be done as they work with the objective of bringing in some usefulness to the society. Initially, there is a common issue with respect to diffusion and fragmentation of responsibility. Due to the physical and intellectual division of labor, which results in disintegration of knowledge, the complex decision-making process in organizations and government sector, it is highly difficult for individual engineers to take hold of the application of their discoveries. This disintegration of work and also decision-making should result in the division of moral accountability. This should go to a point, where everyone involved was accountable, but not even a single person can be held accountable.

Ignorance is another issue:

Engineers cannot always predict how their new technological development might be misused or abused for destructive purposes in the near or even in a distant future. The excuse of ignorance is somewhat acceptable for engineers involved in fundamental innovations as they cannot even envision the potential application of their innovation. But, it is not acceptable in the case of engineers involved in the applied technological innovation as the work objectives are clearly known to them.

Those funding for research:

One more point of view is that the accountability falls on those, who provide the funding for the research and technological developments. In most cases, the funding agencies are government organizations. As the general public are contributing their share to the research and development projects in the form of tax and also the politicians representing the public should also be held responsible for the appropriate use and abuse of science and technology.


The final point is that social responsibility of engineers cannot be overlooked. They should remember the same when they work towards innovation of a new technology. They should have an eye on the outcome of their innovation and do the same accordingly considering the society they live.

Written by: Akshay Patni