Computer Technology, The Concorde Jet Liner, And Ethics
The issues of ethic in business practices in the age of increasing computer technology and the importance of managing information has come to the forefront of organizational management issues. In a society which now creates much of its wealth, not from hardwoods products, or services, but from the use of information, the integrity of that information is imperative to the ongoing well-being of the organization. In order for company A to continue to occupy the competitive position in the marketplace, the information and knowledge which company A possesses is considered as one of its proprietary assets. Stealing, 'borrowing' or otherwise duplication information in today's information business world is no different than breaking into a bank vault, and making off with the companies payroll money, or electronically hacking into the company bank records, and transferring moneys to a personal account.
In order to protect the company information, the science of data protection and data encryption has evolved to include some of the most sophisticated specifications. Ultimately the ability of an organization to protect its informational assets is a more accurately a function of the ethics of the workers, and organization's management than of encryptions devices and electronic data-protection sub-processes. An organization's ability to protect its data will be only as successful as the individual's commitment to the same goals. In today's electronic age when a flash 128 meg hard drive can fit in the palm of a person hand, or the bottom of a shoe, the ability to download data for remote retrieval is a very real threat to the organization's survival. The organizations' leader's individual commitment to ethical business practices and how well these commitments are passes along to the organizations' members will determine the attitude toward ethical decisions.
Managing ethics in the workplace holds tremendous benefit for leaders and managers, benefits both moral and practical. This is particularly true today when it is critical to understand and manage highly diverse values in the workplace. However, ethics has traditionally been the domain of philosophers, academics and social critics. Consequently, much of today's literature about ethics is not geared toward the practical needs of leaders and managers -- the people primarily responsible for managing ethics in the workplace. The most frequent forms of business ethics literature today typically include:
philosophical, which requires extensive orientation and analysis anthologies, which require much time, review and integration case studies, which require numerous cases, and much time and analyses to synthesize
Focus on social responsibility, which includes many examples of good and bad actions taken by companies. (This lack of practical information is not the fault of philosophers, academic or social critics. The problem is the outcome of insufficient involvement of leaders and managers in discussion and literature about business ethics. More leaders and managers must become involved.)
This problem was explained very well by Stark in his article, "What's the Matter with Business Ethics?"(Stark, 1993) He notes "while much has been written about individual components of ethics programs, especially about codes of ethics, the literature is much more limited on ethics programs." Wong and Beckman in a recent edition of Journal of Business Ethics note that "researchers are claiming that current literature is filled with strong arguments for more ethical corporate leadership and incorporation of ethics in business curriculum, but what is conspicuously missing is the "how to" in actually putting ethical goals and theories into practical action."
Lack of involvement from leaders and managers in the field of business ethics has spawned a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding among leaders and managers about business ethics. When someone brings up the topic of business ethics it tends to bring up cynicism, righteousness, paranoia, and laughter. Stark notes that "often ethicists advance a kind of moral absolutism that avoids many of the difficult and most interesting questions." Many managers believe ethics is irrelevant because too much ethics training avoids the real-to-life complexities in leading organizations. Bob Dunn, President and CEO of San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility, explains, "Ethical decisions aren't as easy as they used to be. Now, they're the difference between right -- and right."
In the case of the Concorde supersonic airliner, the breakthroughs for this project were not so much in the technology field as the innovations were technical. In the 1960's when the Concorde was designed and built, technology and technical advancements in the aerospace industry were identifies as the same field. However today, society ahs differentiated between technical advancement in almost every industries and the technology industry, which is limited to the computer based information and internet revolution.
Conceived in the 1950's when jet travel was revolutionizing the travel industry, and military aircraft were first breaking the sound barrier, supersonic transportation across the Atlantic Ocean was considered an inevitable step of progress. Thus the Concorde's commission was launched to develop, design, and manufacture a supersonic airliner.
The introduction of the supersonic Concorde in 1969 might be considered one exception to what otherwise might be regarded as a lack of significant technological advances that benefited the average traveler since 1960. This "new travel experience" did reduce travel time by flying faster-its supersonic turbofan engines operate at much higher speeds. However, the engines and vehicle aerodynamic characteristics result in significantly less fuel efficiency at those speeds. Consequently, the cost to operate and thus the net cost to the customer are much higher, rather than lower.
Technological breakthroughs often make their greatest contribution to society not in what they directly provide, but in what they open the door to. A technological breakthrough may revolutionize a sector of an industry, but the questions they ask can be more valuable than the ones they answer. Concorde, conceived and built at time in which computer technology was much less developed than today, opened the door to the idea of supersonic travel, and began to develop the technology which would move air travel toward the High Altitude, Low Orbit, reusable space vehicles which are currently on the design tables at NASA, and other aerospace engineering companies.
The time has now come to invigorate new growth cycles by focusing our exports on the development of advanced transport aircraft that offer the potential for significantly reducing both fares and travel times (Concorde only affected the latter). This would create substantial market growth and extend the benefits of economical, high-speed travel to a greater portion of our society. The question then becomes: "Is the development of such a truly advanced aerospace transportation system technically feasible, and ethically sound.
Efficient, high-speed propulsion is the key to both quantum reductions in travel time and cost. The enabling technology of our aerospace craft is a proprietary ejector ramjet engine that has already been demonstrated in ground tests operating at nearly twice the fuel efficiency of existing subsonic turbofan engines while cruising over five times faster. This patented ejector ramjet propulsion system has the potential to literally revolutionize both the domestic aviation and aerospace transportation industries. (Congressional Testimony, 2000)
At the heart of the question of ethics are the vehicle's effects on social values. Ultimately ethics is a measure of social values, and what the society is willing to do to protect the value, worth, and property of others. When considering the performance of Concorde, the ability to travel at supersonic speed has very little to do with a society's value system. The technical advances made by the designers of the vehicle have little to no direct effect on the values of the society which the plane served.
An entire area of ethical considerations exist outside the arena of technological and computer ethics, and these are issues of he environment, the cost / benefit ratio of the supersonic travel, and the economics of Concorde's high fuel usage when compared to other forms of transportation. Some would argue that the ethical value of being able to fly at supersonic speeds is diminished because of the higher amount of greenhouse gasses the planes created on a per passenger basis. The plane was powered by two Rolls Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 turbo jet engines. These engines generated 18.7 tons of thrust. To generate this much thrust during a trip to New York from London this engine will burn around twenty four thousand gallons of fuel. The Concorde has seventeen fuel tanks located in the wings, fuselage, front, and the tail. Combined these tanks can carry around thirty two thousand gallons of fuel. In light of the jet's small passenger manifest when compared to a 747 airliner, travel in the Concorde was an expensive proposition. In fact, between the high fuel costs, maintenance costs, and small passenger manifest, the aircraft never produced a profit.
Is it ethical for a few people to travel in luxury accommodations, eating gourmet meals between the richest cities in the world and while paying close to $5,000.00 per one way ticket? Is this an ethical use of the planets limited resources?
On the surface this is a sociological and environmental question, and not one…