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Friday, April 17, 2020

Toward equipping Artificial Moral Agents with multiple ethical theories

George Rautenbach and C. Maria Keet
arXiv:2003.00935v1 [cs.CY] 2 Mar 2020


Artificial Moral Agents (AMA’s) is a field in computer science with the purpose of creating autonomous machines that can make moral decisions akin to how humans do. Researchers have proposed theoretical means of creating such machines, while philosophers have made arguments as to how these machines ought to behave, or whether they should even exist.

Of the currently theorised AMA’s, all research and design has been done with either none or at most one specified normative ethical theory as basis. This is problematic because it narrows down the AMA’s functional ability and versatility which in turn causes moral outcomes that a limited number of people agree with (thereby undermining an AMA’s ability to be moral in a human sense). As solution we design a three-layer model for general normative ethical theories that can be used to serialise the ethical views of people and businesses for an AMA to use during reasoning. Four specific ethical norms (Kantianism, divine command theory, utilitarianism, and egoism) were modelled and evaluated as proof of concept for normative modelling. Furthermore, all models were serialised to XML/XSD as proof of support for computerisation.

From the Discussion:

A big philosophical grey area in AMA’s is with regards to agency. That is, an entity’s ability to
understand available actions and their moral values and to freely choose between them. Whether
or not machines can truly understand their decisions and whether they can be held accountable
for them is a matter of philosophical discourse. Whatever the answer may be, AMA agency
poses a difficult question that must be addressed.

The question is as follows: should the machine act as an agent itself, or should it act as an informant for another agent? If an AMA reasons for another agent (e.g., a person) then reasoning will be done with that person as the actor and the one who holds responsibility. This has the disadvantage of putting that person’s interest before other morally considerable entities, especially with regards to ethical theories like egoism. Making the machine the moral agent has the advantage of objectivity where multiple people are concerned, but makes it harder to assign blame for its actions - a machine does not care for imprisonment or even disassembly. A Luddite would say it has no incentive to do good to humanity. Of course, a deterministic machine does not need incentive at all, since it will always behave according to the theory it is running. This lack of fear or “personal interest” can be good, because it ensures objective reasoning and fair consideration of affected parties.

The paper is here.