Be ethical engineers: Question, challenge, reimagine

The rise of artificial intelligence and its perceived takeover of several industries and professions have provoked uncertainty among workers, specifically engineers.

Jacob Richard Anthony (Coby) Santos Lim spoke about this at the 2023 Master’s Commencement Ceremony of the College of Engineering of the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

Lim. Screenshot of the commencement ceremony of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering YouTube channel

Lim, who graduated with a Master of Engineering in Civil and Environmental Engineering degree, was its student speaker.

“I have a joke. Why did the UC Berkeley student major in engineering? Because they wanted to build a time machine to go back and enroll in a less stressful major. That joke was written by a computer program called ChatGPT, which can generate an answer to almost any prompt you give it,” Lim said.

He continued that ChatGPT does not only make jokes, “It can also program and solve engineering problems. A worrying scenario for us engineers, even if we were the ones who built it.”

Lim finished his Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, cum laude, from UP Diliman (UPD) in 2019. Before graduating, he received the inaugural Diwa ng Diliman award at the Parangal sa Mag-aaral 2019 for his contributions to UPD, which include making repairs to the Carillon Tower’s electronics and establishing the Ahon Microfinance, initiatives that were useful to the UPD community.

“In Berkeley, I learned that the technologies we built can never replace us. Technology is only a reflection of its creators, engineers, like us. If we are prejudiced, the technology we build will be prejudiced. If you want to build ethical technology that benefits mankind, you must first build ethical engineers, and engineering is about more than just answering or programming or solving like a computer. It is also about questioning, challenging, and reimagining. Things an AI could never do. This is why we went to Berkeley,” Lim explained. “So to the friends and family of the graduates, I know what you are thinking. Don’t worry, our jobs are secure. The world needs and will always need ethical engineers,” he added.

Lim at the UC Berkeley graduation. Screenshot of the commencement ceremony of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering YouTube channel

With the use of algorithms, Lim said misinformation can spread quickly and spawn negatively, as shown in the 2022 Philippine national elections.

“I grew up hearing the stories of survivors (of Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr.’s martial law). Teachers, mentors, friends. And it broke my heart to see their stories twisted and forgotten. Marcos Jr. buried the truth and won by a landslide. No doubt, with the help of brilliant engineers,” recalled Lim.

“But Berkeley taught me to use technology to fight back. To question, challenge, and reimagine. For one of my projects here in Cal, I analyzed election data to find voters’ trends, pulling the numbers, consulting with election experts, and programming, until late in the evening. I combined my findings, decades of my nation’s history, and the stories I grew up hearing, to find which groups of voters were more susceptible to misinformation,” Lim said.

In closing, Lim said, “After graduation, I come home bringing what I learned in Berkeley to aid in future elections so my country’s democracy is not built on lies. Computers cannot fight for the truth but we can.” Lim spoke on behalf of the more than 800 master’s degree graduates at a ceremony held on May 17 at the UC Berkeley Hearst Greek Theatre.

The graduates and their guests. Screenshot of the commencement ceremony of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering YouTube channel