Out of character: on the creation of virtuous machines [Book Review]

Ethics and Information Technology 14 (2):137-149 (2012)
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Abstract

The emerging discipline of Machine Ethics is concerned with creating autonomous artificial moral agents that perform ethically significant actions out in the world. Recently, Wallach and Allen (Moral machines: teaching robots right from wrong, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) and others have argued that a virtue-based moral framework is a promising tool for meeting this end. However, even if we could program autonomous machines to follow a virtue-based moral framework, there are certain pressing ethical issues that need to be taken into account, prior to the implementation and development stages. Here I examine whether the creation of virtuous autonomous machines is morally permitted by the central tenets of virtue ethics. It is argued that the creation of such machines violates certain tenets of virtue ethics, and hence that the creation and use of those machines is impermissible. One upshot of this is that, although virtue ethics may have a role to play in certain near-term Machine Ethics projects (e.g. designing systems that are sensitive to ethical considerations), machine ethicists need to look elsewhere for a moral framework to implement into their autonomous artificial moral agents, Wallach and Allen’s claims notwithstanding.

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Ryan Tonkens
Dalhousie University

References found in this work

Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse & Glen Pettigrove - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong.Wendell Wallach & Colin Allen - 2008 - New York, US: Oxford University Press.
Killing in war.Jeff McMahan - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View.Christine Swanton - 2003 - Oxford, GB: Clarendon Press.

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