Figure1’s Joshua Landy says we need a Hippocratic oath for tech


As Figure1 co-founder Joshua Landy puts it in his recent TechTO talk, Silicon Valley currently has an image problem. Whether it’s building addictive platforms that are affecting the mental health of young people, to platforms that have gone as far as to affect the outcome of an election, people are starting to see technology as doing more harm than good.

To combat this, Landy suggests that tech should have their own Hippocratic oath, a historical oath taken by doctors to uphold specific ethical standards. During his TechTO talk, Landy — who has also taken an oath as a critical care specialist — explained how a hippocratic oath would work in the tech industry.

He gives the example of Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist who left the company to start the Time Well Spent movement, which is working to figure out how technology can fit into people’s lives “without ruining those lives.”

Doctors today take the modern-day ‘Oath of Lasagna,’ which covers issues like overtreatment and undertreatment. Taking language from this oath, Landy says we can switch it around with common tech experiences. “We know we don’t need to ruin people’s message notifications centre with a million push notifications sending them headlines we know they’re going to click on if they’re not goning to get anything out of the experience,” he said.

hippocratic oath for tech
An example of the oath, and how language can be switched around to suit the tech industry.

“Your job as a doctor isn’t to focus on every little abnormality and correct it, but to understand who that person is, what their ecosystem is like, and to point them towards directions of healthful choices,” Landy said. “If we want to be doing good work, we want to be on the side of our users and we want to be thinking about them, because they have missions, goals, and objectives, and they have hired my app to do a job. If you lead them astray but getting them to do things that put your needs ahead of theirs, they’re going to notice and they will stop using your platform.”

Watch the full talk below:

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.

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