The newly emerging field of machine ethics (Anderson and Anderson 2006) is concerned with adding an ethical dimension to machines. Unlike computer ethics--which has traditionally focused on ethical issues surrounding humans' use of machines--machine ethics is concerned with ensuring that the behavior of machines toward human users, and perhaps other machines as well, is ethically acceptable. In this article we discuss the importance of machine ethics, the need for machines that represent ethical principles explicitly, and the challenges facing those working on machine ethics. We also give an example of current research in the field that shows that it is possible, at least in a limited domain, for a machine to abstract an ethical principle from examples of correct ethical judgments and use that principle to guide its own behavior. We need to make a distinction between what James Moor has called an "implicit ethical agent" and an "explicit ethical agent" (Moor 2006).
The way people interact with technology is always evolving. Think about children today - give them a tablet or a smartphone and they have literally no problem in figuring out how to work it. Whilst this is a natural evolution of our relationships with new tech, as it becomes more and more ingrained in our lives it's important to think about the ethical implications. This isn't the first time I've spoken about ethics and AI - I"ve had guests on the Women in AI Podcast such as Cansu Canca from the AI Ethics Lab and Yasmin J. Erden from St Mary's University amongst others join me to discuss this area, and I even wrote a white paper on the topic which is on RE•WORK's digital content hub - so it's something that's really causing conversation at the moment. Fiona McEvoy, the founder of YouTheData.com, joined me on the podcast back in June to discuss the importance of collaboration in AI to ensure it's ethically sound.
The field of artificial intelligence is exploding with projects such as IBM Watson, DeepMind's AlphaZero, and voice recognition used in virtual assistants including Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google's Home Assistant. Because of the increasing impact of AI on people's lives, concern is growing about how to take a sound ethical approach to future developments. Building ethical artificial intelligence requires both a moral approach to building AI systems and a plan for making AI systems themselves ethical. For example, developers of self-driving cars should be considering their social consequences including ensuring that the cars themselves are capable of making ethical decisions. Here are some major issues that need to be considered.
Given a swell of dire warnings about the future of Artificial Intelligence over the last few years, the field of AI ethics has become a hive of activity. These warnings come from a variety of experts such as Oxford University's Nick Bostrom, but also from more public figures such as Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking. The picture they paint is bleak. In response, many have dreamed up sets of principles to guide AI researchers and help them negotiate the maze of human morality and ethics. Now, a paper in Nature Machine Intelligence throws a spanner in the works by claiming that such high principles, while laudable, will not give us the ethical AI society we need.
A key front for ethical questions in artificial intelligence, and computer science more generally, is teaching students how to engage with the questions they will face in their professional careers based on the tools and technologies we teach them. In past work (and current teaching) we have advocated for the use of science fiction as an appropriate tool which enables AI researchers to engage students and the public on the current state and potential impacts of AI. We present teaching suggestions for E.M. Forster's 1909 story, "The Machine Stops," to teach topics in computer ethics. In particular, we use the story to examine ethical issues related to being constantly available for remote contact, physically isolated, and dependent on a machine --- all without mentioning computer games or other media to which students have strong emotional associations. We give a high-level view of common ethical theories and indicate how they inform the questions raised by the story and afford a structure for thinking about how to address them.