I will be giving a presentation at the Architecting for the Global Good instance of IASA’s (free, online) Business Innovation Leadership and Technology conference series. The title is “Master or Servant? Are We Humans Still ‘Top Dogs’ in This Brave New World of Massive IT?”. It will be an extremely condensed journey from the essentials to the ethics of the digital revolution. 11AM Pacific US, 2PM Eastern US, 21:00 Central Europe.
At the end of my presentation I am planning to say something about a potential ‘Hypocratic Oath’ for Scientists and Engineers. I have been inspired by the fact that during the height of the cold war, many physicists signed a ‘Young Pugwash’ oath when they graduated, which was an oath stating you were not going to work on weapons of mass destructions. The draft oath for scientists and engineers in information technology I have written so far is:
As no society can exist without shared convictions, and as the most beneficial convictions are truthful ones, and as the convictions of members of society are strongly influenced by the information that a person consumes, I declare:
- I will not work on systems that have the effect of damaging society by attenuating the flow of truthful information or by amplifying the flow of untruthful information
- I will not work on systems that damage people’s security of mind
- I will not remain silent if I know of such systems being created or used
It is not easy to come up with something with obvious drawbacks. E.g. when you state you don’t want to work on influencing people, you exclude advertisement, and properly regulated advertisement should be possible. There are many other problematic aspects. Such a statement can never be air tight. Still, the above in my view could work.
The above draft specifically mentions ‘damaging society’ to make sure it doesn’t affect free speech too much. The same is true for attenuating/amplifying, which means it is not the free speech itself that is the target of the oath, but specific aspects of it.
The idea of ‘security of mind’ comes from ‘security of person’ from the universal declaration of human right, which generally in constitutions and laws is either specifically written or explained as being about physical security. But information influences us mentally. Hence, people’s minds need to be protected as well as their bodies. I’ve made that specific (the information revolution forces us to rethink human rights as previous it was very hard to ‘look or act inside people’s minds’ at scale (propaganda and brainwashing does this of course). The information revolution may also lead us to have to rethink the structure of a fair society (see also Gossip, Trust and the Information Revolution (‘value’ vs. ‘values’))
I’ve created a version for investors as well:
As no society can exist without shared convictions, and as the most beneficial convictions are truthful ones, and as the convictions of members of society are strongly influenced by the information that a person consumes, we declare:
- We will not invest in companies that have the effect of damaging society by attenuating the flow of truthful information or by amplifying the flow of untruthful information
- We will not invest in companies that damage people’s security of mind
I’m posting this now to invite feedback and comments from this community.