Purposeful Technology: Should Programmers Take The Hippocratic Oath Too?

19/05/2015 8:03 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images
A participant uses his laptop computer during the fifth edition of Open Hack India, a 24-hour non-stop hacking event organised by Yahoo! India R&D, in Bangalore on August 11, 2012. Over 700 Indian software developers from across 20 states are participating in the marathon Open Hack event. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN (Photo credit should read Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages)

The Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians to uphold specific ethical standards is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of modern medicine across the world. Since time immemorial, physicians have been constantly reminded of their responsibilities as they discharged their duties. It was always doctors who were valiant soldiers in the battle between life and death in an emergency room, but in today's modern medicine, a host of technologies also stand guard.

One line of wrong code could mess up the reading on your digital vital statistics monitoring system or crash the EMR system that has critical patient data. I believe it is time for software developers to take their craft very seriously and also reap the benefits of being part of the global health/wellbeing eco-system. What higher purpose than uplifting the wellness in our communities? In a country like India, especially in my city Bangalore, it is hard to cross the street without running into someone who is into software development. However, usually when I ask them what they are doing it is either working on a services project for a large MNC or creating the next version of Angry Birds or Candy Crush or something of that sort. From my perspective, this is not the best use of their talent and potential.

"The software industry in India, with its huge talent pool, has the ability to become a leader in creating "purposeful technology" that can uplift our own communities, but also impact the world."

Nearly half of our population is less than 25 years of age. A good chunk of them are employed in the IT services sector. In a country like India, what could happen if these young talents went about solving real problems that exist in our society? How about leveraging our engineering and software development skills to build purposeful technology?

Wellbeing represents one of the most primal human needs, and technologies designed to positively impact it are the need of the hour. In India only 33% of government doctors are available in the rural areas where nearly 70% of the population lives. Channeling our energies to bring about impactful solutions to address our public health, safety, safety, water, energy and transportation can do a lot for our communities.

The initiative to do good with technology is the need of the hour since it impacts our everyday lives. It has the capacity to increase stress and suffering by inappropriate use, but also if used appropriately it can improve the lives of individuals as well as benefit society as a whole.

We need to integrate programs into our educational systems and organisations that look at how design and development of technology can be leveraged to support psychological wellbeing and maximise human potential. Technology allows us to see into the lives of more people today than every before in history. Now how can this be leveraged for the collective wellbeing of our communities?

The software industry in India, with its huge talent pool, has the ability to become a leader in creating "purposeful technology" that can uplift our own communities, but also impact the world. With advances in personal informatics/quantified self, m-health, affective computing, behaviour change technology, value sensitive design, big data and a plethora of related technologies, today's software developer is able to make a similar impact as a physician. It is left to us to leverage the existing technologies and techniques to provide people with transformative solutions, empower them and enhance the human potential.

How about building technology that can optimise happiness, creativity and productivity? In the West we have seen initiatives in the technology industry such as Games for Change, UX for Good, Wisdom 2.0 and Design for Good. It is for us to also launch grass-roots campaigns in India to embrace some of the findings from these initiatives and integrate them into our solutions.

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a tribute to emotional experience as part of a campaign in which Apple asked of their technologies: "Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist?" It is time for key stakeholders of the software industry to ask the same, "Will the software we are working on make life better? Does it deserve to exist?"

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