Both the ethics of autonomous systems and the problems of their technical implementation have by now been studied in some detail. Less attention has been given to the areas in which these two separate concerns meet. This paper, written by both philosophers and engineers of autonomous systems, addresses a number of issues in machine ethics that are located at precisely the intersection between ethics and engineering. We first discuss the main challenges which, in our view, machine ethics posses to moral philosophy. We them consider different approaches towards the conceptual design of autonomous systems and their implications on the ethics implementation in such systems. Then we examine problematic areas regarding the specification and verification of ethical behavior in autonomous systems, particularly with a view towards the requirements of future legislation. We discuss transparency and accountability issues that will be crucial for any future wide deployment of autonomous systems in society. Finally we consider the, often overlooked, possibility of intentional misuse of AI systems and the possible dangers arising out of deliberately unethical design, implementation, and use of autonomous robots.
The field of machine ethics is concerned with the question of how to embed ethical behaviors, or a means to determine ethical behaviors, into artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The goal is to produce artificial moral agents (AMAs) that are either implicitly ethical (designed to avoid unethical consequences) or explicitly ethical (designed to behave ethically). Van Wynsberghe and Robbins' (2018) paper Critiquing the Reasons for Making Artificial Moral Agents critically addresses the reasons offered by machine ethicists for pursuing AMA research; this paper, co-authored by machine ethicists and commentators, aims to contribute to the machine ethics conversation by responding to that critique. The reasons for developing AMAs discussed in van Wynsberghe and Robbins (2018) are: it is inevitable that they will be developed; the prevention of harm; the necessity for public trust; the prevention of immoral use; such machines are better moral reasoners than humans, and building these machines would lead to a better understanding of human morality. In this paper, each co-author addresses those reasons in turn. In so doing, this paper demonstrates that the reasons critiqued are not shared by all co-authors; each machine ethicist has their own reasons for researching AMAs. But while we express a diverse range of views on each of the six reasons in van Wynsberghe and Robbins' critique, we nevertheless share the opinion that the scientific study of AMAs has considerable value.
The fully programmable Nao robot has been used to experiment with machine ethics. In his 1942 short story'Runaround', science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics -- engineering safeguards and built-in ethical principles that he would go on to use in dozens of stories and novels. They were: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. Fittingly, 'Runaround' is set in 2015. Real-life roboticists are citing Asimov's laws a lot these days: their creations are becoming autonomous enough to need that kind of guidance.
We consider the consequences for human beings of attempting to create ethical robots, a goal of the new field of AI that has been called Machine Ethics. We argue that the concerns that have been raised are either unfounded, or can be minimized, and that many benefits for human beings can come from this research. In particular, working on machine ethics will force us to clarify what it means to behave ethically and thus advance the study of Ethical Theory. Also, this research will help to ensure ethically acceptable behavior from artificially intelligent agents, permitting a wider range of applications that benefit human beings. Finally, it is possible that this research could lead to the creation of ideal ethical decision-makers who might be able to teach us all how to behave more ethically. A new field of Artificial Intelligence is emerging that has been called Machine Ethics.