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Ethics, the Environment and Computer

• This lecture is quite different than any I’ve ever
– It covers largely non-technical material
– It involves a lot my opinions on non-technical subjects.
• That’s something not overly comfortable with
• Please don’t think you need to agree with me
• Topics are:
– The Environment and the impact Computer Engineering
has on it.
• I use, nearly verbatim and with permission, a presentation given
by a senior in one of my classes.
– Ethics in a number of contexts
• Workplace ethics
• Intellectual property laws
• I’m (again) discussing three topics that each
could (and is) their own class (or major, or
– This time I’m not overly qualified in the area…
– And I’ve got 30 minutes!
By Jake McCrary
 What is electronic waste?

 Why is it a problem?

 What is being done about e-waste?

 Lead vs. Lead free

 American definition
◦ Anything with a PCB or slightly complicated
electronic components

 European
◦ Anything with a plug
 More than 4.6 million tons of electronic waste
(e-waste) was produced in the US in the year
2000 [Bhuie]
◦ EPA has it that we disposed of 2.4 million tons in

 In Europe, quantity of e-waste increases 3 to

5% a year [Bhuie]
◦ 3 times larger growth than other waste growth
 Electronics are becoming more and more a
part of everyday life

 Embedded systems are every place

◦ Microwaves, printers, key fobs, cars, appliances,
cell phones
 Electronics becoming disposable
 Cell phones
◦ Life span is about 1.5 years now
◦ 130 million are retired a year
◦ Over 500 million are stockpiled [Bhuie]
 Computers
◦ 20 million retired a year
◦ 240 million already stockpiled [Bhuie]
 Estimated that for every new cell phone or
computer one becomes obsolete [Bhuie]
 Hazardous materials found in electronics
◦ Examples: Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Nickel,
Zinc, Antimony, Lead
◦ Can cause damage to brain, lungs, and other
◦ Lead especially toxic to developing children
 Hazardous materials not only found in
electronic components

 Toxins are found in the plastics

◦ Brominated flame-retardants (BFR) added to
plastics to reduce chance of fire
◦ Damage to sexual development and growth
attributed to some BFRs [Jackson]
 Recycling programs

 Many programs try to refurbish and sell old


 Programs in place to mine precious metals

from old equipment
 Computer companies have started recycling
◦ Some charge fee
◦ Some give customers rebates on new products

 Cell Phone recycling

◦ Largest programs are Verizon’s Hopeline and
Wireless Foundation’s Donate-a-Phone programs
 Cell phone rates of recycling appear to be at
8% in the US in 2009. [EPA]
◦ One study had it at 70% in the world in 2004.

 PCs are 38% by EPA

◦ 10% worldwide by the same study in 2004.
Cost (US $) Cell Phone PC
Collection 6.00 23.50
Transportation 0.35 0.43
Sorting - 3.50
Dismantling 0.03 2.75
Refining 0.32 7.87
Disposal of 0.01 0.83
Disposal of 0.03 5.00

Bhuie, A. K., O. A. Ogunseitan, et al. (2004).

 High cost of labor for recycling
 Outsource to China
◦ Cheap labor
◦ Laws are less strict
 City of Guiyu: e-waste hub of world
◦ Drinking water has to be brought in [Johnston]
◦ Horrible working conditions [Grossman]
◦ Studies show problems in workers from recycling
Natalie Behring,
Natalie Behring,
Natalie Behring,
 There is a lot of money to be had processing
electronic waste
 Chinese government trying to come up with
 Laws have been passed
 Electronics companies taking some
responsibility in making sure waste handled
properly [Johnston]
 Poor conditions not only overseas

 Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) run

electronic waste processing in prisons
◦ The Department of Justice’s Inspector General in
2010 found:
 Numerous violations of health, safety, and
environmental laws and regulations
 “Gross misconduct” by staff working for the Federal
Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR. [ETB]
 Some take old equipment and pass on to schools
and nonprofits

 Others mine for metals

◦ 30 to 50% circuit is made of metal [Grossman]

 950 e-waste processors in North America

◦ 400 to 500 in the United States [Grossman]

 700 million dollar industry in 2003 [Grossman]

 Estimated that by 2010 the industry will have $3.5

billion dollars in revenue [Grossman]
 Two directives have been passed
◦ Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
◦ Restrictions of the Use of Certain Hazardous
Substances (RoHS)

 Move responsibility of end of life impact to

producer (“producer responsibility”) [Tetra
 Producers responsible for collection, treatment,
and disposal of e-waste [Tetra Tech]

 Logos must be placed on products alerting

customers not to throw away in normal trash
[Tetra Tech]

 Provide list of materials in products to recyclers

[Tetra Tech]
 The name is fitting
 Restricts:
◦ Lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium,
and some brominated flame retardants [Tetra Tech]
◦ If there is no alternative you can use the above
 Every 4 years review to see if you can stop using
restricted substance [Grossman]
 Has a large impact on electronics [Mueller]

 Lead is used in practically everything

 Getting rid of lead clearly makes end of life

better [Mueller]

 Yet some environmentalists are opposed to

lead ban
 SnAgCu is common replacement to SnPb
 US EPA finds that SnAgCu has greater
environmental impact on:
◦ Non-renewable resources
◦ Energy use
◦ Water Quality
◦ Ozone depletion
◦ Global Warming
 Per 1000 cc of solder, lead free uses an
energy equivalent of 162 gallons more of
gasoline [United States EPA]
 Increased environmental impact comes
from material and process related issues
[United States EPA; Mueller]

 Metals used are more costly to extract


 Melting point is higher which results in

more energy use [Mueller]

 Tin based solders form whiskers [Mueller]

 Improvements cannot be made to impact of
lead at end of life

 Processes used to produce and use lead free

solder could be improved

 Forcing lead free could force companies to

come up with recycling friendly designs to
reduce cost
 Electronics are becoming more and more of
part of everyday life

 New legislature is forcing electronic industry

to pay attention to environmental impact

 It is unsure if such laws are beneficial

 Tetra Tech. (2005). "Factsheet: WEEE and RoHS Directives." Retrieved 10/21, 2006, from

 Bhuie, A. K., O. A. Ogunseitan, et al. (2004). Environmental and economic trade-offs in

consumer electronic products recycling: a case study of cell phones and computers. Electronics
and the Environment, 2004. Conference Record. 2004 IEEE International Symposium on, 10-13
May 2004, Page(s): 74 – 79

 Grossman, E. (2006). High tech trash: digital devices, hidden toxics, and human health.
Washington, Island Press/Shearwater Books.

 Jackson, A. S., A. Shuman, et al. (2006). "Toxic Sweatshops: How UNICOR Prison Recycling
Harms Workers, Communities, the Environment, and the Recycling Industry." Retrieved 10/22,
2006, from

 Johnston, B. R. (2003). "The Political Ecology of Water: An Introduction " Capitalism, nature,
socialism 14(3): 73 - 90.

 Mueller, J., H. Griese, et al. (2005). Transition to lead free soldering - a great change for a
better understanding of materials and processes and green electronics.

 United States. Environmental Protection Agency. (2005). "Solders in electronics a life-cycle

assessment." Retrieved 10/20, 2006, from


Now onto Ethics
 What are “ethics”?
◦ “book” definition of ethics
 a system of principles governing morality and
acceptable conduct
 a major branch of philosophy, encompasses right
conduct and good living. It is significantly broader
than the common conception of analyzing right and
 the study of values - good and bad, right and wrong
 That sounds pretty removed from day-to-
day activities
◦ What I’m looking for is:

1. How do I figure out the

“right” thing to do?
2. How do I decide if it’s
important to do it?
What’s “right” (this is hard!)
 Some working definitions
◦ Greatest Good for the Greatest Number
 Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham
◦ Some form of the Golden Rule
 “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want
to be happy, practice compassion” – Dalai Lama
 …do to others what you would have them do to you… -- Bible
 Lots more...
◦ An it harm none, do what ye will
 Wiccan Rede
◦ If it feels right, it probably is
 “…the well known elephant test. It is difficult to describe, but you
know it when you see it.” -- Lord Justice Stuart-Smith
 “When the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the
law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they have
not the law. They show that what the law requires is written on
their hearts.” -- Bible
 I personally think that what’s right is written
into us
◦ Maybe by culture, maybe by genes, maybe by a
 I go with the “To Catch a Mockingbird”
◦ Put yourself in the shoes of all the people
involved and you can figure out what is right.
 Please notice, this is still (oddly) different than what to
actually do.
 Even more oddly, each of us may reach a different
 This would seem to be a killer to my philosophy, but…
Example from my professional life
 Catch a student cheating on a project
◦ Options:
 Send them to the honor council
 Honor Council if they want, otherwise zero on the
 Ignore it
 And the closely associated, “don’t look for it” strategy.
◦ Who are the players who’s views I need to
 What do they think and how does this impact them?
◦ So what’s right?
Potential example from your
personal life
 You really want an internship from Google.
◦ But Google is being annoying and not getting
back to you. (You suspect they aren’t interested)
◦ Microsoft has offered you an internship, but you
need to respond to them before Google is going
to get back to you.
 So you take the Microsoft job
 And of course, three days later, Google offers you an
◦ What’s right?
◦ What to actually do?
…and what to do.
 This is quite a bit harder.
◦ I think knowing the right thing is usually fairly
 Its weighing it against other commitments (to
yourself and others) that’s hard.
◦ If your death could save two random people
elsewhere in the world
 It’s pretty clear that dying would be the right thing
 But it’s a lot less clear that’s what you (or I) would
actually do, or should do.
So…I don’t have any great insights.

 Best I’ve got is an engineer’s solution

◦ Look at it from all possible viewpoints
 Being sure to think hard about who all the players
◦ Don’t be cavalier about these issues
 In my experience unethical behavior often comes
from not taking the time to think things through
◦ “Do no harm” is a good minimum for an
 Anything that causes harm not only has ethical
issues, there are almost always legal issues.
Next lecture:
 Mostly on CS/CE/EE stuff.
◦ What the programs are, how they relate to
what we’ve done in 100 etc.
◦ Some examples of cool EECS topics
 Error correction, signal processing, etc.
 Also a short bit on intellectual property.
◦ Reading assignment:
 “Right to Read”
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 One of the most important legal (and
perhaps ethical issues) of the day is
something greatly important to Computer
 How to treat “intellectual property”
 Creations of the mind - creative works or ideas
embodied in a form that can be shared or can
enable others to recreate, emulate, or
manufacture them. There are four ways to
protect intellectual property - patents,
trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets
 How much control the creator of the IP
should have over it’s use
 Both extremes (None and Complete) are seriously
argued by serious people.
 Natural Law
 The creator should have control of their creation
 Economics
 With control comes the ability to make money.
 Thus people are more likely to make things people
▪ Benefit to society as a whole
▪ See “Invisible Hand”, Adam Smith
 The more control, the more money, the more
created, the more the benefit to society.
 Natural Law
 IP can’t be “owned” in the same sense as a sandwich.
▪ If others make a copy of your information, you still have it.
▪ If the IP is, say, a cure for cancer, shouldn’t it be freely
available to all with cancer?
▪ Why protect something that’s worth less than that?
 Economics
 Society benefits by the free flow of information.
▪ Seeing what others have done, and freely being able to use it,
enriches new creations.
▪ If someone hides information (trade secret, copyright) then
we get a duplication of effort.
 Person (or company) who is creating these
“creations of the of the mind”
 Others
 Those who might benefit from these creations
 Those who might suffer from IP restrictions
 “Society”
 This is distinct from “others” in both arguments,
so should be kept separate.
 The first codification of intellectual property can be traced to
the Jewish laws in the Talmud (200 CE), which declared a
prohibition against "Gnevat daat" - literally the theft of
 Use of the term IP appears to start around 1845.
 But the notion has been around for a while
 “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their
respective Writings and Discoveries.”
▪ Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution,
 Patents in the modern sense originated in Italy in 1474.[12] At that
time the Republic of Venice issued a decree by which new and
inventive devices, once they had been put into practice, had to be
communicated to the Republic in order to obtain the right to prevent
others from using them.
▪ Wikipedia
 For patent law, there are a number of
balances/limits on control
 Limited times (14-20 years)
 Must disclose idea to patent it
▪ And patent is published
 For copyright
 A term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years
after the author's death.
▪ Recently increased in a retroactive way
 No disclosure required
 Fair use
 In the story, what are the issues of IP that
 Is this believable?
 Two questions
 What to do
 What should be done