Do coders need a hippocratic oath for generative AI?

The Hippocratic oath is a set of declarations that any graduating students in the medical profession agrees to undertake. It outlines their responsibilities and what the best practices are in terms of administering care to others.

While the Hippocratic oath is limited to the field in particular, should other industries adopt a similar stance? What about coders, developers, and engineers working in generative AI for example?

This is an idea that was posited by Microsoft South Africa during a recent AI-focused media briefing.

The session was designed to showcase the steps that the company takes in developing its AI tools in a responsible manner, as well as how a policy framework within the African context can help drive this burgeoning sector on the continent.

There is indeed an opportunity to be seized, with much being made of the transformative power of AI.

Don’t get caught up

“On a continent that already has the youngest population in the world, and will soon be home to one in five of the world’s consumers, the ability to leverage such a powerful tool to help businesses understand and better cater to the unique needs of Africa’s burgeoning consumer base through data analytics could be game changing,” noted president of Microsoft Africa, Lillian Barnard, during a recently published opinion piece.

“It could also empower a young workforce with AI-driven educational tools, enhancing their skills and future employability. From agriculture to health care, AI is expected to enable faster and more profound progress in nearly every field of human endeavor and help address some of society’s most daunting challenges,” she explained.

With a recent PwC report noting that AI is expected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global GDP by 2023, companies and countries across the world are clamouring to get involved and grab a piece of that sizeable pie.

The pervasiveness of the technology should not allow society to get blindsided, however, as an ethical and responsible approach is indeed needed, especially given how quickly developments in the AI industry roll out at a pace that few regulators can keep up with.

“Amid this wave of excitement and potential, Africa is faced with a critical mandate: As we navigate this AI-powered future, our journey must be underpinned by responsible and sustainable innovation, ensuring that our progress remains aligned with the human values, societal norms, and the needs that define Africa’s vastly diverse cultures,” Barnard emphasised.

Bake responsibility in

“A thoughtful approach to regulation is also key to ensuring that our exploration of AI’s vast potential is conducted with responsibility and ethical foresight, taking Africa’s unique socioeconomic and cultural context into account. Legislation should consider issues such as protecting data privacy, ethical AI use, and minimizing bias with the utmost care while simultaneously nurturing the opportunity this revolutionary technology presents,” she continued.

With more governments looking to responsibly regulate AI in their respective territories, it behooves any coder, developer, engineer, or indeed generative AI working on this technology to do so in an ethical way.

While the idea of a Hippocratic oath for this industry was presented as more of a thought experiment, the more one considers how much scrutiny generative AI will come under down the line, the more having such a code of standards and ethics makes sense.

We have seen a number of companies already sign open letters and espouse the dangers of irresponsible AI development, but without a framework to control development, they just feel like empty words.

Microsoft has long said that it adheres to a core set of values when it comes to developing AI responsibly, but given how big of an industry player it is, perhaps it should be pushing for more industry standards too.

[Image – Photo by Igor Omilaev on Unsplash]


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