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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should We Take Moral Advice From Our Computers? written by Mahmoud Ghanem

This essay received an Honourable Mention in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student, Mahmoud Ghanem

The Case For Computer Assisted Ethics

In the interest of rigour, I will avoid use of the phrase “Artificial Intelligence”, though many of the techniques I will discuss, namely statistical inference and automated theorem proving underpin most of what is described as “AI” today.

Whether we believe that the goal of moral actions ought to be to form good habits, to maximise some quality in the world, to follow the example of certain role models, or to adhere to some set of rules or guiding principles, a good case for consulting a well designed computer program in the process of making our moral decisions can be made. After all, the process of carrying out each of the above successfully at least requires:

(1) Access to relevant and accurate data, and

(2) The ability to draw accurate conclusions by analysing such data.

Both of which are things that computers are very good at.

To make a case otherwise is to claim one of two things: either that humans have access to morally relevant data, which is in some way fundamentally inaccessible to computers, or that humans can engage in a kind of moral reasoning which is fundamentally uncomputable. I will address these two points before moving on to a suggestion of what such a computer program may look like. Finally, I will address the idea that consulting computers will make us morally lazy, by showing how a well designed program ought to, in fact, achieve the opposite.

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.