A Vindication of the Rights of Machines

Philosophy and Technology 27 (1):113-132 (2014)
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Abstract

This essay responds to the machine question in the affirmative, arguing that artifacts, like robots, AI, and other autonomous systems, can no longer be legitimately excluded from moral consideration. The demonstration of this thesis proceeds in four parts or movements. The first and second parts approach the subject by investigating the two constitutive components of the ethical relationship—moral agency and patiency. In the process, they each demonstrate failure. This occurs not because the machine is somehow unable to achieve what is considered necessary and sufficient to be a moral agent or patient but because the characterization of agency and patiency already fail to accommodate others. The third and fourth parts respond to this problem by considering two recent alternatives—the all-encompassing ontocentric approach of Luciano Floridi’s information ethics and Emmanuel Levinas’s eccentric ethics of otherness. Both alternatives, despite considerable promise to reconfigure the scope of moral thinking by addressing previously excluded others, like the machine, also fail but for other reasons. Consequently, the essay concludes not by accommodating the alterity of the machine to the requirements of moral philosophy but by questioning the systemic limitations of moral reasoning, requiring not just an extension of rights to machines, but a thorough examination of the way moral standing has been configured in the first place

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