Intelligent machines, long promised and never delivered, are finally on the horizon. Sufficiently intelligent robots will be able to operate autonomously from human control. They will be able to make genuine choices. And if a robot can make choices, there is a real question about whether it will make moral choices. But what is moral for a robot? Is this the same as what's moral for a human? Philosophers and computer scientists alike tend to focus on the difficulty of implementing subtle human morality in literal-minded machines. But there's another problem, one that really ought to come first. It's the question of whether we ought to try to impose our own morality on intelligent machines at all. In fact, I'd argue that doing so is likely to be counterproductive, and even unethical. The real problem of robot morality is not the robots, but us. Can we handle sharing the world with a new type of moral creature? We like to imagine that artificial intelligence (AI) will be similar to humans, because we are the only advanced intelligence we know. But we are probably wrong.
As robots become integrated into society more widely, we need to be sure they'll behave well among us. In 1942, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attempted to lay out a philosophical and moral framework for ensuring robots serve humanity, and guarding against their becoming destructive overlords. This effort resulted in what became known as Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics: Today, more than 70 years after Asimov's first attempt, we have much more experience with robots, including having them drive us around, at least under good conditions. We are approaching the time when robots in our daily lives will be making decisions about how to act. Are Asimov's Three Laws good enough to guide robot behavior in our society, or should we find ways to improve on them?
In the 2004 film I, Robot, Will Smith's character Detective Spooner harbors a deep grudge for all things technological -- and turns out to be justified after a new generation of robots engage in a full out, summer blockbuster-style revolt against their human creators. Why was Detective Spooner such a Luddite–even before the Robots' vicious revolt? Much of his resentment stems from a car accident he endured in which a robot saved his life instead of a little girl's. The robot's decision haunts Smith's character throughout the movie; he feels the decision lacked emotion, and what one might call'humanity'. "I was the logical choice," he says. "(The robot) calculated that I had a 45% chance of survival. Sarah only had an 11% chance." He continues, dramatically, "But that was somebody's baby. A human being would've known that."
How can we programme a robot to behave morally when we don't have a working definition for morality ourselves? This is one of the many questions involved with the field of artificial intelligence and the development of advanced robots. While it might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, artificial intelligence has quickly become a facet of our daily lives. Take Siri or Google Now on our smartphones, and Amazon's Alexa. Rudimentary as they are today, these so-called "smart assistants" represent the future of artificial intelligence.
The question of whether AI can or should be afforded moral agency or patiency is not one amenable either to discovery or simple reasoning, because we as societies are constantly constructing our artefacts, including our ethical systems. Consequently, the place of AI in society requires normative, not descriptive reasoning. Here I review the basis of social and ethical behaviour, then propose a definition of morality that facilitates the consideration of AI moral subjectivity. I argue that we are unlikely to construct a coherent ethics such that it is ethical to afford AI moral subjectivity. We are therefore obliged not to build AI we are obliged to.