First, do no harm
Despite the widely held perspective, which I share, that the Internet and its burgeoning applications have brought enormous benefit in the form of access to information and facilitation of innumerable transactions of all kinds, it is also inescapable that this increasingly pervasive infrastructure can be used in harmful ways. Put another way, this Garden of Eden has its share of snakes. One is rapidly drawn to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Hugo Grotius, among others, for insights. Like many other pervasive examples of infrastructure (e.g., roads, waterways, financial transaction systems), there are opportunities for deliberate (and accidental!) harms to befall the users of these systems. Ethics provides us with ways to view these potential hazards and a rationale for their mitigation. The paraphrase of the historic Hippocratic oath is sometimes rendered: “First, do no harm,” and this might well be an ethical commitment the users, makers, and operators of the Internet and its applications might undertake.
Cerf, V. G. (2011). First, do no harm. Philosophy & Technology 24 (4), pp. 463-465.
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