Out of curiosity, since I read this question What are Operations Research applications for 'good causes'? and thought it might be a good addition to it.

What are Operations Research applications, where ethical/moral stakes are involved? I mean applications that lead to ethical questions that go beyond the initial purpose of the application and people would eventually refuse to work on this because of ethical reasons. At first I wanted to use the term "bad causes", but this is too subjective and I tried to phrase the question as neutral as possible.

  • $\begingroup$ For example, consider the assignment of scarce resources (such as ventilators during COVID-19 pandemic) to the patients. You can make the assignment such that maximizes your sets of objectives, but since it deals with people's lives, the stakes are high and the decisions can become very subjective. $\endgroup$ – EhsanK May 21 '20 at 23:20

At LocalSolver, we have a number of clients in the area of advertising, in media like TV, radio, (D)OOH. We love this field of application of OR where problems consist of maximizing media's revenues while satisfying advertisers' constraints. We know that some people consider these applications as "morally discussable". Because advertising is considered by some people as bad for society.

Another field of application that may be controversial is workforce planning. When we discuss this topic, in particular with students in OR courses, we see some of them worried about "minimizing the number of workers" and then leading to fire people. By explaining more precisely what are the context and goals of workforce planning in companies, we observe people getting relaxed with the topic.

More generally, since the outcomes of OR in the economy are optimization and automation, some people see OR as bad for society. Because efficiency gains just mean job destructions in their mind.


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