Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Does Humanity Want Computers Making Moral Decisions?

Albert Barqué-Duran
Department of Psychology
CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON

A runaway trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. If the trolley is allowed to run on its current track, a work crew of five will be killed. If the driver steers the train down the other branch, a lone worker will be killed. If you were driving this trolley what would you do? What would a computer or robot driving this trolley do? Autonomous systems are coming whether people like it or not. Will they be ethical? Will they be good? And what do we mean by “good”?

Many agree that artificial moral agents are necessary and inevitable. Others say that the idea of artificial moral agents intensifies their distress with cutting edge technology. There is something paradoxical in the idea that one could relieve the anxiety created by sophisticated technology with even more sophisticated technology. A tension exists between the fascination with technology and the anxiety it provokes. This anxiety could be explained by (1) all the usual futurist fears about technology on a trajectory beyond human control and (2) worries about what this technology might reveal about human beings themselves. The question is not what will technology be like in the future, but rather, what will we be like, what are we becoming as we forge increasingly intimate relationships with our machines. What will be the human consequences of attempting to mechanize moral decision-making?

Nowadays, when computer systems select from among different courses of action, they engage in a kind of decision-making process. The ethical dimensions of this decision-making are largely determined by the values engineers incorporate into the systems, either implicitly or explicitly.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.