Responsibility for safety and risk minimization: Outline of an attribution‐based approach regarding modern technological and societal systems

  • KIT Karlsruhe/Germany
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After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, questions of safety management and responsibility became topical to a high degree. The notion of individual responsibility is, also for institutional and corporate decisions and enterprises, of particular importance for technology. Problems of collective and corporate responsibility are becoming and still will become even more topical. Engineering ethics codes should be developed, improved, and operationally implemented. Rules of priority outlined here for handling responsibility conflicts must be elaborated much further. This seems necessary to meet the ideal requirements of social responsibility for technology in society. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Hum Factors Man 13: 203–222, 2003.

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... Just appeals to the avoidance of social trap situations alone are not very useful. One should also introduce operationally available and efficient measures (Lenk 2003) such as legal sanctions (product liability, collective responsibility, etc.), financial incentives to change production, determination of property rights for public goods, etc. The following rule could serve as a guideline: as many laws, regulations and prohibitions as necessary; as many incentives, individual initiatives and individual responsibility as possible. ...
... Should a manager just follow up with managerial and economic strategies of maximizing instead of optimizing or ''satisficing'' (Simon 1951(Simon , 1979Giere 1990: 157ff) profit or pressing to save time in risky operations and strategies to implement new technologies? (Lenk 2003) Rather, he or she should refrain from generating any risk for life and limb in acceding to operational plans to implement a new technology-to stay on the safe side. Is not safety to be valued first-even at the price of setbacks with respect to economic development and a possible maximization of gains or profits? ...
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In this paper, I develop and differentiate some problems of the interaction between corporations, individuals and the general public as well as institutions like the state or international non-governmental organizations as well as super-national organizations. Firms or corporations are nowadays much more international than they used to be; they are typically multinational enterprises giving rise to special transnational problems of transactions, interchanges and—indeed also—responsibilities ranging over national borders and restricted areas. In our culture, we have to deal with rather ramified types of individual and collective as well as specific corporate responsibilities tending to reach out beyond national borders, specific state law restrictions and even business systems and economies. The traditional personal and individual responsibility and their different forms will not do to cope with all the respective international, intercultural and inter-sectoral problems of modern corporations and their international interactions. In the paper, I have also discussed the question: Do multinational organizations and corporations have a sort of specific corporate responsibility, and if so, against whom and for what—except for their share- and stakeholders?
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Characteristic features of New Technologies are listed and discussed.
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An epistemology mainly oriented at a philosophical discussion of natural sciences and technology is sketched out on the basis of the author’s “methodological scheme-interpretationism” combining a realistic and a perspectival pragmatic approach. - In the main part, 12 characteristic features of the New Technologies are presented and discussed as, e.g., operationalization, computerization, models and modularity, virtuality and artificiality, interdisciplinary interaction, comprehensive and complex systems, telematization and remote control, robotics and AI technology and automatization as well as “socio-eco-techno-systems”, technology-driven globalization and the respective problems of individual and social responsibility. - Also, actual trends are listed and future tasks for the international ecological cooperation of states, UN and UNESCO bodies under urgent guidelines of humanitarian values and “practical/concrete humanity” are recommended.
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We provide a complete characterization of the set of Markov-Perfect Equilibrium (MPE) of dynamic common-property resource games a la Levhari and Mirman (1980). We find that all MPE of such games exhibit remarkably regular dynamic behavior. Surprisingly, however, and despite their memoryless nature, MPE need not result in a "tragedy of the commons", i.e., overexploitation of the resource relative to the first-best solutions. We show through an example that MPE could, in fact, lead to the reverse phenomenon of underexploitation of the resource. Nonetheless, we demonstrate that, in payoff space, MPE are always suboptimal.
Conference Paper
In our everyday life, we must constantly make choices concerning what tasks to do or not to do, when to do them, and whether to do them at all.
We define technical responsibility management as the organized fulfillment of all the legal and other responsibilities connected with the use of technical means of production and installations in an enterprise. To act legally responsible even under the condition of permanently changing regulations and to produce cost efficiency at the same time, a responsibility management system (RMS) is being presented, a system that, as it were, automatizes and rationalizes the fulfillment of all liabilities valid at the time. All existing installations in the enterprise, as well as all relevant legal provisions, are represented in adequate form by experts and, resulting from this, software determines optimized schedules that also take into account additional secondary operational conditions. Internet/intranet technology even permits complete outsourcing. RMSs heighten the safety level in the enterprise, provide legal security, and open up hitherto inaccessible savings potentials. The author pleads for the OECD principles for good “Corporate Governance Systems (Management and Controlling)” to demand the future introduction of RMSs. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Hum Factors Man 13: 253–259, 2003.
Normal Accidents analyzes the social side of technological risk. Charles Perrow argues that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety--building in more warnings and safeguards--fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable. He asserts that typical precautions, by adding to complexity, may help create new categories of accidents. (At Chernobyl, tests of a new safety system helped produce the meltdown and subsequent fire.) By recognizing two dimensions of risk--complex versus linear interactions, and tight versus loose coupling--this book provides a powerful framework for analyzing risks and the organizations that insist we run them. The first edition fulfilled one reviewer's prediction that it "may mark the beginning of accident research." In the new afterword to this edition Perrow reviews the extensive work on the major accidents of the last fifteen years, including Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Challenger disaster. The new postscript probes what the author considers to be the "quintessential 'Normal Accident'" of our time: the Y2K computer problem.
Responsibility is a moral and ethical duty for engineers that must be faced constantly, whether, for instance, in the loss of the lives of seven astronauts in the 'Challenger' disaster or the oil pollution caused by an inshore shipping accident. Is the responsibility a personal one, that of a group, or something that falls on the corporation? These aspects are fully discussed and distinguished in terms of action, task, and universal moral responsibilities. Problems arise in assigning responsibility and 16 priority rules are proposed as a solution to this all important problem.
The distinction between moral rules and moral ideals is presented and explained in various ways. The authors propose that people in business are required to obey the moral rules and have a choice with respect to ideals. Thus, they are not in a different position from that of anyone else in society. Four case studies are presented and discussed. The analytical approaches used by the authors' students are summarized and evaluated. The moral rules/ideals paradigm is described as helping discussants of the cases to establish congruence between business ethics and their personal set of values. Other values of the classroom discussion of ethics cases are considered.
"Technology is not the answer to the population problem. Rather, what is needed is 'mutual coercion mutually agreed upon'--everyone voluntarily giving up the freedom to breed without limit. If we all have an equal right to many 'commons' provided by nature and by the activities of modern governments, then by breeding freely we behave as do herders sharing a common pasture. Each herder acts rationally by adding yet one more beast to his/her herd, because each gains all the profit from that addition, while bearing only a fraction of its costs in overgrazing, which are shared by all the users. The logic of the system compels all herders to increase their herds without limit, with the 'tragic,' i.e. 'inevitable,' 'inescapable' result: ruin the commons. Appealing to individual conscience to exercise restraint in the use of social-welfare or natural commons is likewise self-defeating: the conscientious will restrict use (reproduction), the heedless will continue using (reproducing), and gradually but inevitably the selfish will out-compete the responsible. Temperance can be best accomplished through administrative law, and a 'great to invent the corrective keep custodians honest.'"
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Castells, M. (1996–1998). The Information Age (vols. 1–3). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
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A comprehensive theory of moral responsibility
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Ladd, J. (1990). A comprehensive theory of moral responsibility. Unpublished manuscript, Brown University.
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