Artificial evil and the foundation of computer ethics

Ethics and Information Technology 3 (1):55-66 (2001)
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Moral reasoning traditionally distinguishes two types of evil:moral and natural. The standard view is that ME is the product of human agency and so includes phenomena such as war, torture and psychological cruelty; that NE is the product of nonhuman agency, and so includes natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, disease and famine; and finally, that more complex cases are appropriately analysed as a combination of ME and NE. Recently, as a result of developments in autonomousagents in cyberspace, a new class of interesting and importantexamples of hybrid evil has come to light. In this paper, it is called artificial evil and a case is made for considering it to complement ME and NE to produce a more adequate taxonomy. By isolating the features that have led to the appearance of AE, cyberspace is characterised as a self-contained environment that forms the essential component in any foundation of the emerging field of Computer Ethics. It is argued that this goes someway towards providing a methodological explanation of whycyberspace is central to so many of CE's concerns; and it isshown how notions of good and evil can be formulated incyberspace. Of considerable interest is how the propensity for anagent's action to be morally good or evil can be determined evenin the absence of biologically sentient participants and thusallows artificial agents not only to perpetrate evil but conversely to `receive' or `suffer from'it. The thesis defended is that the notion of entropy structure,which encapsulates human value judgement concerning cyberspace ina formal mathematical definition, is sufficient to achieve thispurpose and, moreover, that the concept of AE can be determinedformally, by mathematical methods. A consequence of this approachis that the debate on whether CE should be considered unique, andhence developed as a Macroethics, may be viewed, constructively,in an alternative manner. The case is made that whilst CE issues are not uncontroversially unique, they are sufficiently novel to render inadequate the approach of standard Macroethics such as Utilitarianism and Deontologism and hence to prompt the search for a robust ethical theory that can deal with them successfully. The name Information Ethics is proposed for that theory. Itis argued that the uniqueness of IE is justified by its beingnon-biologically biased and patient-oriented: IE is anEnvironmental Macroethics based on the concept of data entityrather than life. It follows that the novelty of CE issues suchas AE can be appreciated properly because IE provides a newperspective. In light of the discussion provided in this paper, it is concluded that Computer Ethics is worthy of independent study because it requires its own application-specific knowledge and is capable of supporting a methodological foundation, Information Ethics.



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Author Profiles

Luciano Floridi
Yale University
Joshua Sanders
Saint Joseph's College of Indiana

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Computing machinery and intelligence.Alan M. Turing - 1950 - Mind 59 (October):433-60.
Principia Ethica.G. E. Moore - 1903 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 13 (3):7-9.
God, freedom, and evil.Alvin Plantinga - 1978 - Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

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