The Future of Moral Machines

January 12, 2012

A robot walks into a bar and says, “I’ll have a screwdriver.” A bad joke, indeed. But even less funny if the robot says, “Give me what’s in the cash register.”

Thinking about machines with morals (or lacking them) is one of Colin Allen’s specialties. Allen is a Provost Professor of history and the philosophy of science and professor of cognitive sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. In a New York Times column (The Stone, Dec. 25, 2011), he reflects at length on the questions surrounding machine morality. Pointing toward machines that already operate with minimal human oversight (robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, automobiles, not to mention military drones),  Allen says “even modest amounts of engineered autonomy” necessitate “some modest goals for the design of artificial moral agents.” He calls for the contributions of both engineers and philosophers to the construction of machines that, “when embedded in well-designed systems of human-machine interaction, produce morally reasonable decisions.”

Still think moral machines are kind of a joke? Maybe you should ask Siri.

Read Allen’s complete New York Times column here.

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