On Machine Ethics

The most recent meeting of Columbus Futurists delved into the topic of IBM’s trivia-savvy supercomputer Watson and his most recent performance on Jeopardy.

Some of the discussion had to do with the thorny issue of machine ethics, based on the very human fears that machines may become intelligent in unintended ways and make ethical decisions which are less than satisfactory.

As I reflected on the topic, my belief (and, frankly, hope) is that there will be multiple machine ethical standards from multiple manufacturers. Different companies will program their computers with different ethical frameworks and there will be plenty of opportunities to assess and compare the different frameworks.

I find this idea a relief. Often when we debate machine ethics, we think there must be only one ideal standard, the complexity will be deciding on what that standard should be and then we’ll have to deal with the consequences if there is something wrong with that standard.

In reality, machine ethics will be a process of continuous improvement, with no right answer, much like how ethics, morality and politics are for humans.

–James Moyer

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