The ethics of humans vs robots

My mom periodically sends me ethics articles.  Today’s article was absolutely unbelievable.  (Thanks, Mom!)  According to a Fox News Article Published 2/14/2016 a Spanish government worker got paid for six years without showing up to the job. He collected an annual salary of $42,000 for supervising the construction of a waste water treatment plant.  The water company building the plant thought the man was a government worker.  And the government thought he was a water company employee. They caught him when he became eligible for an award for 20 years of service.  The man was penalized $30,000 the maximum amount allowable under Spanish law.

Aside from the fact that $30,000 is the maximum allowable under Spanish law (wouldn’t that be nice here???), the next logical question would be Why did he do it? The worker says he was bullied on another job, switched assignments, found there was nothing to do at the water treatment plant, but was fearful of being unable to find another job at his. So he kept silent. 

And now we get to the ethics issues.  Being dishonest is one thing, and obviously unethical.  Having a work environment where an employee is fearful of bullying, retribution or losing a job is another thing entirely and shifts the accountability for ethical behavior to others.  Speaking of accountability, how could a leader or manager fail to uncover this for six years? There’s a whole new area of unethical behavior, or at least negligence, in this last situation.

Maybe Uber has it right.  A blog just published in LinkedIN Pulse Feb. 16  talks about Uber redefining the work week by letting its drivers choose when they work. Uber treats their drivers as independent contractors, so they are not really employees (ie, Uber does not have to pay payroll taxes).  Uber doesn’t really care how many drivers they have or when they work as long as all requests for rides are fulfilled on a timely manner. It appears that this model is quite popular with people and is actually challenging traditional company labor practices as more and more people want similar work schedule flexibility.

Uber’s main focus is not really flexibility of work week, however. Instead, Uber’s eye on the prize is actually in eliminating human drivers altogether and replacing them with robots (self-driving cars). Doing this eliminates cost, increases profits, and reduces ethical problems caused by human drivers.

Employee ethics issues are not going away any time soon. Whether it’s the Spanish employee who was afraid to speak up for fear of losing his job, or whether it’s a company like Uber who eliminates as much of the human workforce as “humanly” possible, there will still be ethics issues.  I guess the question here is this: who teaches robots to be ethical?

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