Artificial evil and the foundation of computer ethics

Etica E Politica 2 (2) (2000)
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Moral reasoning traditionally distinguishes two types of evil: moral and natural. The standard view is that ME is the product of human agency and so includes phenomena such as war, torture and psychological cruelty; that NE is the product of nonhuman agency, and so includes natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, disease and famine; and finally, that more complex cases are appropriately analysed as a combination of ME and NE. Recently, as a result of developments in autonomous agents in cyberspace, a new class of interesting and important examples of hybrid evil has come to light. In this paper, it is called artificial evil and a case is made for considering it to complement ME and NE to produce a more adequate taxonomy. By isolating the features that have led to the appearance of AE, cyberspace is characterised as a self-contained environment that forms the essential component in any foundation of the emerging field of Computer Ethics. It is argued that this goes some way towards providing a methodological explanation of why cyberspace is central to so many of CE’s concerns; and it is shown how notions of good and evil can be formulated in cyberspace. Of considerable interest is how the propensity for an agent’s action to be morally good or evil can be determined even in the absence of biologically sentient participants and thus allows artificial agents not only to perpetrate evil but conversely to ‘receive’ or ‘suffer from’ it. The thesis defended is that the notion of entropy structure, which encapsulates human value judgement concerning cyberspace in a formal mathematical definition, is sufficient to achieve this purpose and, moreover, that the concept of AE can be determined formally, by mathematical methods. A consequence of this approach is that the debate on whether CE should be considered unique, and hence developed as a Macroethics, may be viewed, constructively, in an alternative manner. The case is made that whilst CE issues are not uncontroversially unique, they are sufficiently novel to render inadequate the approach of standard Macroethics such as Utilitarianism and Deontologism and hence to prompt the search for a robust ethical theory that can deal with them successfully. The name Information Ethics is proposed for that theory. It is argued that the uniqueness of IE is justified by its being non-biologically biased and patient-oriented: IE is an Environmental Macroethics based on the concept of data entity rather than life. It follows that the novelty of CE issues such as AE can be appreciated properly because IE provides a new perspective. In light of the discussion provided in this paper, it is concluded that Computer Ethics is worthy of independent study because it requires its own application-specific knowledge and is capable of supporting a methodological foundation, Information Ethics.

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