Intelligent capacities in artificial systems

In William A. Bauer & Anna Marmodoro (eds.), Artificial Dispositions: Investigating Ethical and Metaphysical Issues. New York: Bloomsbury (2023)
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Abstract

This paper investigates the nature of dispositional properties in the context of artificial intelligence systems. We start by examining the distinctive features of natural dispositions according to criteria introduced by McGeer (2018) for distinguishing between object-centered dispositions (i.e., properties like ‘fragility’) and agent-based abilities, including both ‘habits’ and ‘skills’ (a.k.a. ‘intelligent capacities’, Ryle 1949). We then explore to what extent the distinction applies to artificial dispositions in the context of two very different kinds of artificial systems, one based on rule-based classical logic and the other on reinforcement learning. Here we defend three substantive claims. First, we argue that artificial systems are not equal in the kinds of dispositional properties they instantiate. In particular, we show that logical systems instantiate merely object-centered dispositions whereas reinforcement learning systems allow for the instantiation of agent-based abilities. Second, we explore the similarities and differences between the agent-centered abilities of artificial systems and those of humans, especially as relates to the important distinction made in the human case between habits and skills/intelligent capacities. The upshot is that the agent-centered abilities of truly intelligent artificial systems are distinctive enough to constitute a third type of agent-based ability — blended agent-based ability — raising substantial questions as to how we understand the nature of their agency. Third, we explore one aspect of this problem, focussing on whether systems of this type are properly considered ‘responsible agents’, at least in some contexts and for some purposes. The ramifications of our analysis will turn out to be directly relevant to various ethical concerns of artificial intelligence.

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Author Profiles

Victoria McGeer
Princeton University
Atoosa Kasirzadeh
University of Toronto, St. George Campus (PhD)

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