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Sunday, August 4, 2019

First Steps Towards an Ethics of Robots and Artificial Intelligence

John Tasioulas
King's College London


This article offers an overview of the main first-order ethical questions raised by robots and Artificial Intelligence (RAIs) under five broad rubrics: functionality, inherent significance, rights and responsibilities, side-effects, and threats. The first letter of each rubric taken together conveniently generates the acronym FIRST. Special attention is given to the rubrics of functionality and inherent significance given the centrality of the former and the tendency to neglect the latter in virtue of its somewhat nebulous and contested character. In addition to exploring some illustrative issues arising under each rubric, the article also emphasizes a number of more general themes. These include: the multiplicity of interacting levels on which ethical questions about RAIs arise, the need to recognize that RAIs potentially implicate the full gamut of human values (rather than exclusively or primarily some readily identifiable sub-set of ethical or legal principles), and the need for practically salient ethical reflection on RAIs to be informed by a realistic appreciation of their existing and foreseeable capacities.

From the section: Ethical Questions: Frames and Levels

Difficult questions arise as to how best to integrate these three modes of regulating RAIs, and there is a serious worry about the tendency of industry-based codes of ethics to upstage democratically enacted law in this domain, especially given the considerable political clout wielded by the small number of technology companies that are driving RAI-related developments. However, this very clout creates the ever-present danger that powerful corporations may be able to shape any resulting laws in ways favourable to their interests rather than the common good (Nemitz 2018, 7). Part of the difficulty here stems from the fact that three levels of ethical regulation inter-relate in complex ways. For example, it may be that there are strong moral reasons against adults creating or using a robot as a sexual partner (third level). But, out of respect for their individual autonomy, they should be legally free to do so (first level). However, there may also be good reasons to cultivate a social morality that generally frowns upon such activities (second level), so that the sale and public display of sex robots is legally constrained in various ways (through zoning laws, taxation, age and advertising restrictions, etc.) akin to the legal restrictions on cigarettes or gambling (first level, again). Given this complexity, there is no a priori assurance of a single best way of integrating the three levels of regulation, although there will nonetheless be an imperative to converge on some universal standards at the first and second levels where the matter being addressed demands a uniform solution across different national jurisdictional boundaries.

The paper is here.