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Monday, July 31, 2017

Is it dangerous to recreate flawed human morality in machines?

Alexandra Myers-Lewis
Originally published July 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

The need for ethical machines may be one of the defining issues of our time. Algorithms are created to govern critical systems in our society, from banking to medicine, but with no concept of right and wrong, machines cannot understand the repercussions of their actions. A machine has never thrown a punch in a schoolyard fight, cheated on a test or a relationship, or been rapt with the special kind of self-doubt that funds our cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Simply put, an ethical machine will always be an it - but how can it be more?


A self-driving car wouldn't just have to make decisions in life-and-death situations - as if that wasn't enough - but would also need to judge how much risk is acceptable at any given time. But who will ultimately restrict this decision-making process? Would it be the job of the engineer to determine which circumstances it is acceptable to overtake a cyclist? You won't lose sleep pegging a deer over a goat. But a person? Choosing who potentially lives and dies based on a number has an inescapable air of dystopia. You may see tight street corners and hear the groan of oncoming traffic, but an algorithm will only see the world in numbers. These numbers will form its memories and its reason, the force that moves the car out into the road.

"I think people will be very uncomfortable with the idea of a machine deciding between life and death," S├╝tfeld says, "In this regard we believe that transparency and comprehensibility could be a very important factor to gain public acceptance of these systems. Or put another way, people may favour a transparent and comprehensible system over a more complex black-box system. We would hope that the people will understand this general necessity of a moral compass and that the discussion will be about what approach to take, and how such systems should decide. If this is put in, every car will make the same decision and if there is a good common ground in terms of model, this could improve public safety."

The article is here.