Just an artifact: why machines are perceived as moral agents

Abstract

How obliged can we be to AI, and how much danger does it pose us? A surprising proportion of our society holds exaggerated fears or hopes for AI, such as the fear of robot world conquest, or the hope that AI will indefinitely perpetuate our cul- ture. These misapprehensions are symptomatic of a larger problem—a confusion about the nature and origins of ethics and its role in society. While AI technologies do pose promises and threats, these are not qualitatively different from those posed by other artifacts of our culture which are largely ignored: from factories to advertising, weapons to political systems. Ethical systems are based on notions of identity, and the exaggerated hopes and fears of AI derive from our cultures having not yet accommodated the fact that language and reasoning are no longer uniquely human. The experience of AI may improve our ethical intuitions and self-understanding, potentially helping our societies make better-informed decisions on serious ethical dilemmas.

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