The Moral Consideration of Artificial Entities: A Literature Review

Science and Engineering Ethics 27 (4):1-95 (2021)
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Abstract

Ethicists, policy-makers, and the general public have questioned whether artificial entities such as robots warrant rights or other forms of moral consideration. There is little synthesis of the research on this topic so far. We identify 294 relevant research or discussion items in our literature review of this topic. There is widespread agreement among scholars that some artificial entities could warrant moral consideration in the future, if not also the present. The reasoning varies, such as concern for the effects on artificial entities and concern for the effects on human society. Beyond the conventional consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethicist ethical frameworks, some scholars encourage “information ethics” and “social-relational” approaches, though there are opportunities for more in-depth ethical research on the nuances of moral consideration of artificial entities. There is limited relevant empirical data collection, primarily in a few psychological studies on current moral and social attitudes of humans towards robots and other artificial entities. This suggests an important gap for psychological, sociological, economic, and organizational research on how artificial entities will be integrated into society and the factors that will determine how the interests of artificial entities are considered.

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