Autonomous Reboot: the challenges of artificial moral agency and the ends of Machine Ethics


Ryan Tonkens (2009) has issued a seemingly impossible challenge, to articulate a comprehensive ethical framework within which artificial moral agents (AMAs) satisfy a Kantian inspired recipe - both "rational" and "free" - while also satisfying perceived prerogatives of Machine Ethics to create AMAs that are perfectly, not merely reliably, ethical. Challenges for machine ethicists have also been presented by Anthony Beavers and Wendell Wallach, who have pushed for the reinvention of traditional ethics in order to avoid "ethical nihilism" due to the reduction of morality to mechanical causation, and for redoubled efforts toward a comprehensive vision of human ethics to guide machine ethicists on the issue of moral agency. Options thus present themselves: reinterpret traditional ethics in a way that affords a comprehensive account of moral agency inclusive of both artificial and natural agents, “muddle through” regardless, or give up on the possibility. This paper pursues the first option, meets Tonkens' "challenge" and addresses Wallach's concerns through Beaver's proposed means, by "landscaping" traditional moral theory in resolution of the necessary comprehensive and inclusive account that at once draws into question the stated goals of Machine Ethics, itself.

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Jeffrey White
Okinawa Institute Of Science And Technology


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