Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find the syllabus for Ethics for Engineers?
Posted on our Canvas site are sample syllabuses for the three versions of the course offered this spring. This site is accessible to all MIT students.
What are the different versions of the course?
We offer Regular, AI, BE, and CS versions of the course. The different versions of the course meet separately. The requirements are similar, but the different versions offer different case studies and to some extent different theoretical material. See the individual tabs above for further details.
Schedule for Fall 2023:
|Mondays 3-5||Regular version||Prof. Trout, Dr. Peter Hansen|
|Tuesdays 3-5||BE Focus||Dr. Kathryn Hansen, Prof. Lauffenburger|
|Tuesdays 3-5||CS Focus||Dr. Peter Hansen|
|Wednesdays 7-9||Regular Version||Dr. Peter Hansen|
Do the different course listings of Ethics for Engineers represent different courses? Do they meet together?
As noted above, the different versions of the course (Regular, AI, BE, and CS) meet separately and study somewhat different material. However, we do not separate the different course listings (1.082, 2.900, 6.9320, 10.01, 16.676, 20.005, and 22.014). All of these listings are for Ethics for Engineers, which is one course offered in four versions as indicated above. If you take the Regular version, e.g., you will likely have classmates who are registered through different departmental listings. The requirements are the same whichever course listing you register for, except that there is an additional requirement for 20.005. See the next two questions for further details on that.
I see that 20.005 is 9 units, while the other listings (1.082, 2.900, 6.9320, 10.01, 16.676, and 22.014) are only 6 units. How does this work?
Whichever way you register for Ethics for Engineers, the requirements of the basic 6-unit form of the course apply, chiefly class attendance and participation and weekly assignments. If you register for a listing offering more than 6 units, you will have an additional project/paper requirement. See the next question for further details.
Is extra work required if I register for 20.005?
Yes. The additional requirement for 20.005 is an 8-10 page project or paper on a BE-related topic. Further details are available on Canvas.
Does Ethics for Engineers meet any requirements?
Yes. Every listing of Ethics for Engineers is an Engineering School-wide elective. In addition, if you are a Course 10 major, 10.01 qualifies as a Restricted Elective. If you are a course 20 major, 20.005 qualifies as a Restricted Elective. Finally, every listing of Ethics for Engineers is a Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) Program Leadership Elective (Year 2).
Am I required to take a particular version of Ethics for Engineers based on which listing I registered for, or based on my major?
No. You may take whichever version interests you and works with your schedule. There is no official correspondence between the different departmental listings and the different versions of the course we offer. E.g., if you’re a course 20 major registered for 20.005, you may take the BE version or the Regular version. You may even take the AI or CS version, though this is less commonly done. Similarly, if you are registered for 6.9320, you may take the AI or CS or Regular version—or even BE, though this is less commonly done. If you are registered for one of the other course listings, you may take whichever version you prefer. However, when doing section assignments, we try to accommodate people wishing to be in the version of the course that most closely matches their registration and their major.
How do I sign up for a particular version of the course?
Section assignment begins about 10 days before the first day of class. If you are pre-registered, you will receive an email asking you to indicate which version of the course and which time offered you prefer. If you register for the course without having pre-registered, you will then be contacted regarding your version and section preference.
Is every version of the course offered every semester?
No. The Regular version of the course is offered every semester, and the other versions are offered based on student demand and on our instructors’ schedules. However, we try to offer the BE version and either the AI or the CS version every semester.
How do the AI and CS versions of the course differ?
These two versions of the course cover much of the same ground, but as the names imply, the AI version focuses specifically on AI, while the CS version focuses on CS more generally. For example, one case study in the CS version is the Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which engineers developed software designed to cheat on emissions tests. This did not fundamentally involve AI learning techniques, so it is not used in the AI version. The AI version covers AI-related topics not covered in the CS version. Moreover, while the CS version is largely similar to the other versions of Ethics for Engineers except that the case studies are CS-focused, the AI version of the course is structured differently, with less focus on the four basic ethical theories or frameworks and more intensive examination of AI. Both versions of the course examine the effects of AI on human employment, the Turing test and the meaning of intelligence and of being human, robot “companions,” and other important issues.
“When we got fire and messed up with it, we invented the fire extinguisher. When we got cars and messed up, we invented the seat belt, airbag, and traffic light. But with nuclear weapons and A.I., we don’t want to learn from our mistakes. We want to plan ahead.” – Max Tegmark
“When men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provide them with… there is no place for industry because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no art, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
– Thomas Hobbes
“The inhabitant of the United States attaches himself to the goods of this world as if he were assured of not dying, and he rushes so precipitately to grasp those that pass within his reach that one would say he fears at each instant he will cease to live before he has enjoyed them. He grasps them all but without clutching them, and he soon allows them to escape from his hands so as to run after new enjoyments.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville