Towards a "nerdocratic oath"

9/23/2019 |  12
  Published by Boing Boing

The tech ethics movement has progressed to the point where various practitioners are trying to come up with a kind of oath of service, not unlike the fiduciary principle, or possibly the Hippocratic Oath that doctors and other medical professionals take.

Scott Aaronson's stab at this, the "nerdocratic oath" is a pretty good first approximation; I like that he hedges his determination to be cognizant of the possible harms of the technology he builds, while still holding out the possibility that "that the good of the tools outweighs the bad" and, nevertheless, being alive to "the possibility of self-serving bias in such reflections."

Obviously, this is a neat trick, if you can pull it off! But it's also admirably aware of the limitation of absolute principles, as are all such oaths. Even oaths as simple as Hippocrates's groans under this strain, from the question of whether assisted suicide is a violation of it, to whether participating in secret CIA torture projects can somehow be squared with it.

9. To whatever extent I was gifted at birth with a greater-than-average ability to prove theorems or write code or whatever, I’ll treat it as just that—a gift, which I didn’t earn or deserve. It doesn’t make me inherently worthier than anyone else, but it does give me a moral obligation to use the gift for good. And whenever I’m tempted to be jealous of various non-nerds—of their ease in social or romantic situations, wealth, looks, power, athletic ability, or anything else about them—I’ll remember the gift, and that all in all, I made out better than I had a right to expect.

10. I’ll be conscious always of living in a universe where catastrophes—genocides, destructions of civilizations, extinctions of magnificent species—have happened and will happen again. The burning of the Amazon, the deaths of children, the bleaching of coral reefs, will weigh on me daily, to the maximum extent consistent with being able to get out of bed in the morning, live, and work. While it’s not obvious that any of these problems are open to a STEM-nerd solution, of the sort I could plausibly think of or implement—nevertheless, I’ll keep asking myself whether any of them are. And if I ever do find myself before one of the levers of history, I’ll pull with all my strength to try to prevent these catastrophes.

A nerdocratic oath [Scott Aaronson/Shtetl Optimized]

(Image: Raed Mansour, CC BY, modified)

(via Dan Hon)


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