Patiency is not a virtue: the design of intelligent systems and systems of ethics

Ethics and Information Technology 20 (1):15-26 (2018)
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Abstract

The question of whether AI systems such as robots can or should be afforded moral agency or patiency is not one amenable either to discovery or simple reasoning, because we as societies constantly reconstruct our artefacts, including our ethical systems. Consequently, the place of AI systems in society is a matter of normative, not descriptive ethics. Here I start from a functionalist assumption, that ethics is the set of behaviour that maintains a society. This assumption allows me to exploit the theoretical biology of sociality and autonomy to explain our moral intuitions. From this grounding I extend to consider possible ethics for maintaining either human- or of artefact-centred societies. I conclude that while constructing AI systems as either moral agents or patients is possible, neither is desirable. In particular, I argue that we are unlikely to construct a coherent ethics in which it it is ethical to afford AI moral subjectivity. We are therefore obliged not to build AI we are obliged to.

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