Responsible computers? A case for ascribing quasi-responsibility to computers independent of personhood or agency

Ethics and Information Technology 8 (4):205-213 (2006)

Abstract

There has been much debate whether computers can be responsible. This question is usually discussed in terms of personhood and personal characteristics, which a computer may or may not possess. If a computer fulfils the conditions required for agency or personhood, then it can be responsible; otherwise not. This paper suggests a different approach. An analysis of the concept of responsibility shows that it is a social construct of ascription which is only viable in certain social contexts and which serves particular social aims. If this is the main aspect of responsibility then the question whether computers can be responsible no longer hinges on the difficult problem of agency but on the possibly simpler question whether responsibility ascriptions to computers can fulfil social goals. The suggested solution to the question whether computers can be subjects of responsibility is the introduction of a new concept, called “quasi-responsibility” which will emphasise the social aim of responsibility ascription and which can be applied to computers

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Bernd Stahl
Westfälische Wilhelms Universität, Münster