RE: [sc] Moral Dimensions of SC-System Development

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From: Peter Amey (peter.amey(at)
Date: Mon 25 Nov 2002 - 08:57:30 GMT

-----Original Message-----
From: Martyn Thomas [mailto:martyn(at)]
Sent: 22 November 2002 17:29
To: safety-critical(at)
Subject: RE: [sc] Moral Dimensions of SC-System Development

> Dr. Wolfgang Ehrenberger wrote:

>> We can simply ask: Will the new system be conncted to lower risks
>> than the old one, or will it not? Practically: Will the computerized
>> air bag in a car, the computerized ABS braeking system, ..., train
>> control system, nuclear power plant protection system  lead to
>> lower risks for peoples' lifes than the systems we had before?

>Martin Thomas wrote

>I have some difficulty with this utilitarian approach. It may be right for society to take >this
>attitude, but the people killed and injured by the new system are likely to be different 
>people from
>those who would have been killed or injured by the old system. It certainly matters to them 
>that the
>system has changed! Airbags are an example: they have killed people in accidents that would 
>otherwise have been fatal.

I also have a problem with this in that it assumes that the introduction of new systems is primarily motivated by safety considerations.  In practice this seems rarely to be the case.  Microcontrollers may have made effective airbags possible but other automotive developments have quite different purposes.  Steer-by-wire, for example, will almost certainly be of principal benefit to car interior designers and stylists; there is no pressing safety argument for its introduction (and we already have electric handbrakes for precisely these reasons).  Similarly, aerodynamically-unstable airliners are attractive for reasons of fuel economy rather than safety.  These considerations mean we have a rather harder question to answer: does the perceived benefit [of cool car interiors/cheaper airline tickets] outweigh the potential risk of new technology?


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