Just an Artifact: Why Machines are Perceived as Moral Agents
Joanna Bryson
How obliged can we be to AI, and how much danger does it pose us? A surprising proportion of our society holds exaggerated fears of AI and / or hopes, such as the fear that humanity will be outcompeted by robots, or the hope that our culture will be perpetuated beyond the lifespan of our solar system by self-reproducing spacecraft. Here we argue that these misapprehensions are symptomatic of a larger problem—a general 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 the fact our cultures have 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.