Periodically, I read opinion pieces advocating for a code of conduct governing the development of artificial intelligence ("AI"). The pieces typically recommend that developers, graduates of computer science programs, coders, etc. all sign an oath or agree to some sort of fiduciary duty before engaging in the creation of any AI application. The thought is that as AI grows more sophisticated, its uses expand, and the applications become part of more life-critical systems, the people developing those applications should adopt greater responsibility for how they develop them. In theory, it is similar to the Hippocratic Oath, which has historically obligated physicians to uphold certain ethical standards in their medical practice.
Below, after reviewing the Hippocratic Oath, I provide some examples of the oaths proposed for AI developers before providing a recommendation of my own.
According to the National Institutes of Health, new Greek physicians recited the Hippocratic Oath "to swear upon a number of healing gods" that they would uphold certain professional ethical standards.1 It also bound new physicians to the community of physicians with responsibilities similar to that of a family member. The Oath has been updated frequently in order to reflect the values of different cultures using it. Although there is widespread belief in popular culture that all doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, most medical schools do not require it today. 2
However, many schools still do, and the version they use was written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of Medicine at Tufts University:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.3
To see the full article click here
* John Frank Weaver, a member of McLane Middleton's privacy and data security practice group, is a member of the Board of Editors of The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law and writes its "Everything Is Not Terminator" column. Mr. Weaver, who may be contacted at john.weaver@ mclane.com, has a diverse technology practice that focuses on information security, data privacy, and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, and drones.
1. Greek Medicine, National Institutes of Health, available at https:// www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html ("Greek Medicine Page").
3. The Hippocratic Oath: Modern Version, PBS, available at https:// www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/doctors/oath_modern.html.
Originally published July 1, 2020.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.