Who was that guy—that first guy who thought, “I’m going to use my roof as a second floor”? When did it occur to him that the ceiling over his head could become a new floor beneath his feet? Was he lying in bed in the pre-dawn? Was he staring up at the ceiling with his arm underneath his head? Whatever the case was, you can bet that when the insight dawned on him, he couldn’t wait to make it so.

And after he’d built a ladder and climbed up to the roof, what did his neighbors say? Did they emerge from their own homes, hands shading their eyes, wondering what he was up to this time? Yet, when his innovation really began to benefit him, how many others started installing their own ladders?

And after people all over the village had begun waving to one another from their rooftops, who was the first to fall and injure themselves, or worse yet, fall and die?

Every technological innovation has benefits and consequences. The benefits convince us to adopt it. But the consequences often come to light only later.

When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.

Deuteronomy 22:8

This building code, part of the Jewish law, is one of the earliest recorded in human history. In Bible times, many homes had flat roofs which served as second stories. People could work or bathe up there. (Remember Bathsheba?) But with this innovation came an inherent danger: falling off. So, God included in his laws a practical requirement: railings. Without them, homeowners could be prosecuted for negligence and found guilty of murder.

For technologists, this Biblical law commends itself. It offers a principle that can guide ethical innovation.

Read the rest at Second Nature Journal.