Food for Thought: Moral Machines

question mark“Can a machine be a genuine cause of harm? The obvious answer is affirmative. The toaster that flames up and burns down a house is said to be the cause of the fire, and in some weak sense, we might even say that the toaster was responsible for it; but the toaster is broken or defective, not immoral and irresponsible, though possibly the engineer who designed it is. But what about machines that decide things before they act, that determine their own course of action? Somewhere between digital thermostats and the murderous HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey, autonomous machines are quickly gaining in complexity, and most certainly a day is coming when we will want to blame them for genuinely causing harm, even if philosophical issues concerning their moral status have not been fully settled. When will that be?”

-Anthony F. Beavers, Ph.D., in Review of Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wendall Wallach and Colin Allen. Read more here.

One Response to “Food for Thought: Moral Machines”

  1. Dmeyers says:

    I think the point where we can actually blame machines for causing harm is just on the horizon. Evident in the increased appearances of deadly-machines in modern media – The Matrix series, I-Robot, Terminator Salvation – it would seem the general public agrees. This also seems to reference the Transhumanist movement, where machines and microorganisms will be placed inside the human to increase longevity. At the point where the life of a human is completely dependent on a machine, is when humans will begin blaming machines as things that can actually cause harm. It doesn’t seem to be necessary for the machine to have a mind of its own, or act on its free will; rather, it is more the situation that the machine is put in. Currently, we use machines to support life – breathing devices, blood purifiers – but these are external machines that can be readily checked by technicians. I believe that the point where we can readily blame machines for causing harm is when they are placed inside the body and cannot be easily checked or fixed. At that point, the machine will become ‘part of the human’, it will become another organ inside the patient; however, once that organ fails, it is just another machine that does not work anymore, and it is at that point which they will be blamed for causing harm, and death in many instances

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