Hippocratic oath for maths?

On a free day in Nachi-Taksuura, I came across this call for a professional oath for mathematicians (and computer engineers and scientists in related fields). By UCL mathematician Hannah Fry. The theme is the same as with Weapons of math destruction, namely that algorithms have a potentially huge impact on everyone’s life and that those who design these algorithms should be accountable for it. And aware of the consequences when used by non-specialists. As illustrated by preventive justice software. And child abuse prediction software. Some form of ethics course should indeed appear in data science programs, for at least pointing out the limitations of automated decision making. However, I remain skeptical of the idea as (a) taking an oath does not mean an impossibility to breaking that oath, especially when one is blissfully unaware of breaking it (b) acting as ethically as possible should be part of everyone’s job, whether when designing deep learning algorithms or making soba noodles (c) the Hippocratic oath is mostly a moral statement that varies from place to place and from an epoch to the next (as, e.g., with respect to abortion which was prohibited in Hippocrates’ version) and does not prevent some doctors from engaging into unsavory activities. Or getting influenced by dug companies. And such an oath would not force companies to open-source their code, which in my opinion is a better way towards the assessment of such algorithms. The article does not mention either the Montréal Déclaration for a responsible AI, which goes further than a generic and most likely ineffective oath.

2 Responses to “Hippocratic oath for maths?”

  1. Emmanuel Charpentier Says:

    “Hippocratic”, please. Not “Hyppocratic” : in “Ἱπποκράτης’, the initial is an *iota*, not an *upsilon*…

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