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Robert Sparrow
Monash University
  1. Egalitarianism and Moral Bioenhancement.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - American Journal of Bioethics 14 (4):20-28.
    A number of philosophers working in applied ethics and bioethics are now earnestly debating the ethics of what they term “moral bioenhancement.” I argue that the society-wide program of biological manipulations required to achieve the purported goals of moral bioenhancement would necessarily implicate the state in a controversial moral perfectionism. Moreover, the prospect of being able to reliably identify some people as, by biological constitution, significantly and consistently more moral than others would seem to pose a profound challenge to egalitarian (...)
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  2. Why Machines Cannot Be Moral.Robert Sparrow - 2021 - AI and Society:1-9.
    The fact that real-world decisions made by artificial intelligences are often ethically loaded has led a number of authorities to advocate the development of “moral machines”. I argue that the project of building “ethics” “into” machines presupposes a flawed understanding of the nature of ethics. Drawing on the work of the Australian philosopher, Raimond Gaita, I argue that ethical dilemmas are problems for particular people and not problems for everyone who faces a similar situation. Moreover, the force of an ethical (...)
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  3. Procreative Beneficence, Obligation, and Eugenics.Robert Sparrow - 2007 - Genomics, Society and Policy 3 (3):43-59.
    The argument of Julian Savulescu’s 2001 paper, “Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children” is flawed in a number of respects. Savulescu confuses reasons with obligations and equivocates between the claim that parents have some reason to want the best for their children and the more radical claim that they are morally obligated to attempt to produce the best child possible. Savulescu offers a prima facie implausible account of parental obligation, as even the best parents typically fail to (...)
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  4.  56
    The Promise and Perils of AI in Medicine.Robert Sparrow & Joshua James Hatherley - 2019 - International Journal of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy of Medicine 17 (2):79-109.
    What does Artificial Intelligence (AI) have to contribute to health care? And what should we be looking out for if we are worried about its risks? In this paper we offer a survey, and initial evaluation, of hopes and fears about the applications of artificial intelligence in medicine. AI clearly has enormous potential as a research tool, in genomics and public health especially, as well as a diagnostic aid. It’s also highly likely to impact on the organisational and business practices (...)
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  5.  50
    Predators or Ploughshares? Arms Control of Robotic Weapons.Robert Sparrow - 2009 - IEEE Technology and Society 28 (1):25-29.
    This paper makes the case for arms control regimes to govern the development and deployment of autonomous weapon systems and long range uninhabited aerial vehicles.
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  6.  54
    Can Machines Be People? Reflections on the Turing Triage Test.Robert Sparrow - 2012 - In Patrick Lin, Keith Abney & George Bekey (eds.), Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. MIT Press. pp. 301-315.
    In, “The Turing Triage Test”, published in Ethics and Information Technology, I described a hypothetical scenario, modelled on the famous Turing Test for machine intelligence, which might serve as means of testing whether or not machines had achieved the moral standing of people. In this paper, I: (1) explain why the Turing Triage Test is of vital interest in the context of contemporary debates about the ethics of AI; (2) address some issues that complexify the application of this test; and, (...)
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  7.  22
    Implants and Ethnocide: Learning From the Cochlear Implant Controversy.Robert Sparrow - 2010 - Disability and Society 25 (4):455-466.
    This paper uses the fictional case of the ‘Babel fish’ to explore and illustrate the issues involved in the controversy about the use of cochlear implants in prelinguistically deaf children. Analysis of this controversy suggests that the development of genetic tests for deafness poses a serious threat to the continued flourishing of Deaf culture. I argue that the relationships between Deaf and hearing cultures that are revealed and constructed in debates about genetic testing are themselves deserving of ethical evaluation. Making (...)
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  8.  41
    (Im)Moral Technology? Thought Experiments and the Future of `Mind Control'.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Akira Akayabashi (ed.), The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford University Press. pp. 113-119.
    In their paper, “Autonomy and the ethics of biological behaviour modification”, Savulescu, Douglas, and Persson discuss the ethics of a technology for improving moral motivation and behaviour that does not yet exist and will most likely never exist. At the heart of their argument sits the imagined case of a “moral technology” that magically prevents people from developing intentions to commit seriously immoral actions. It is not too much of a stretch, then, to characterise their paper as a thought experiment (...)
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  9.  42
    Drones, Courage, and Military Culture.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - In Jr Lucas (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Military Ethics. Routledge. pp. 380-394.
    In so far as long-range tele-operated weapons, such as the United States’ Predator and Reaper drones, allow their operators to fight wars in what appears to be complete safety, thousands of kilometres removed from those whom they target and kill, it is unclear whether drone operators either require courage or have the opportunity to develop or exercise it. This chapter investigates the implications of the development of tele-operated warfare for the extent to which courage will remain central to the role (...)
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  10.  43
    Genes, Identity, and the Expressivist Critique.Robert Sparrow - 2008 - In Loane Skene and Janna Thompson (ed.), The Sorting Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111-132..
    In this paper, I explore the “expressivist critique” of the use of prenatal testing to select against the birth of persons with impairments. I begin by setting out the expressivist critique and then highlighting, through an investigation of an influential objection to this critique, the ways in which both critics and proponents of the use of technologies of genetic selection negotiate a difficult set of dilemmas surrounding the relationship between genes and identity. I suggest that we may be able to (...)
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  11.  38
    Twenty Seconds to Comply: Autonomous Weapon Systems and the Recognition of Surrender.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - International Law Studies 91:699-728.
    Would it be ethical to deploy autonomous weapon systems (AWS) if they were unable to reliably recognize when enemy forces had surrendered? I suggest that an inability to reliably recognize surrender would not prohibit the ethical deployment of AWS where there was a limited window of opportunity for targets to surrender between the launch of the AWS and its impact. However, the operations of AWS with a high degree of autonomy and/or long periods of time between release and impact are (...)
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  12.  65
    War Without Virtue?Robert Sparrow - 2013 - In Bradley Jay Strawser (ed.), Killing By Remote Control. Oxford University Press. pp. 84-105.
    A number of recent and influential accounts of military ethics have argued that there exists a distinctive “role morality” for members of the armed services—a “warrior code.” A “good warrior” is a person who cultivates and exercises the “martial” or “warrior” virtues. By transforming combat into a “desk job” that can be conducted from the safety of the home territory of advanced industrial powers without need for physical strength or martial valour, long-range robotic weapons, such as the “Predator” and “Reaper” (...)
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  13.  20
    Talkin' 'Bout a (Nanotechnological) Revolution.Robert Sparrow - 2008 - IEEE Technology and Society 27 (2):37-43.
    It is often claimed that the development of nanotechnology will constitute a “technological revolution” with profound social, economic, and political consequences. The full implications of this claim can best be understood by imagining a scenario in which a political revolutionary made all the same claims that are commonly made by enthusiasts for nanotechnology. I argue that most people would be outraged to learn that the members of an unelected group were planning to radically reshape society in this fashion. I survey (...)
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  14. Talking Sense About Political Correctness.Robert Sparrow - 2002 - Journal of Australian Studies 73:119-133.
    In this paper I make a number of points about “political correctness”. Although individually these arguments seem straightforward - and will hopefully be uncontroversial - put together in context they reveal the idea of a “politically correct”, left-wing dominated, media or intelligentsia in Western political culture to be a conservative bogeyman. The rhetoric of “political correctness” is in fact overwhelmingly a right-wing conservative one which itself is used mainly to silence dissenting political viewpoints. However, the same investigation also suggests that (...)
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  15. Nanotechnologically Enhanced Combat Systems: The Downside of Invulnerability.Robert Mark Simpson & Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Bert Gordijn & Anthony Mark Cutter (eds.), In Pursuit of Nanoethics. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. pp. 89-103.
    In this paper we examine the ethical implications of emerging Nanotechnologically Enhanced Combat Systems (or 'NECS'). Through a combination of materials innovation and biotechnology, NECS are aimed at making combatants much less vulnerable to munitions that pose a lethal threat to soldiers protected by conventional armor. We argue that increasing technological disparities between forces armed with NECS and those without will exacerbate the ethical problems of asymmetric warfare. This will place pressure on the just war principles of jus in bello, (...)
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  16. Better Off Deaf.Robert Sparrow - 2002 - Res Publica (Misc) 11 (1): 11-16.
    Should parents try to give their children the best lives possible? Yes. Do parents have an obligation to give their children the widest possible set of opportunities in the future? No. Understanding how both of these things can be true will allow us to go a long way towards understanding why a Deaf couple might wish their child to be born Deaf and why we might have reason to respect this desire.
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  17.  37
    The Real Force of 'Procreative Beneficence'.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Akira Akayabashi (ed.), The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford University Press. pp. 183-192.
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  18.  14
    Barbarians at the Gates.Robert Sparrow - 2007 - In Igor Primoratz (ed.), Politics and Morality. Palgrave-Macmillan.
    The phenomenon of “dirty hands” is often held to be endemic to political life. Success in politics—it has been argued—requires a willingness to sacrifice our moral principles in order to pursue worthwhile goals. I argue that the tension between morality and politics goes deeper than this. The very existence of “politics” requires that morality is routinely violated because political community, within which political discourse is possible, is based on denying the moral claims of non-members. Political community requires borders and borders (...)
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  19.  22
    Terraforming, Vandalism and Virtue Ethics.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - In Jai Galliot (ed.), Commercial Space Exploration: Ethics, Policy, and Governance. Ashgate. pp. 161-178.
    ‘Terraforming’ is hypothetical climatic and geo-physical engineering of other planets on a grand scale, with the aim of turning the so-called ‘barren’ planets in our (or for that matter another) solar system into habitable earth-like eco-systems. Although terraforming sounds like an idea from science fiction (where it indeed has appeared), it has been seriously proposed as a future project for the human race. With such a technology we could colonise the solar system and perhaps eventually others, moulding them in an (...)
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  20.  16
    'Trust Us... We're Doctors': Science, Media, and Ethics in the Hwang Stem Cell Controversy.Robert Sparrow - 2006 - Journal of Communication Research 43 (1):5-24.
    When doubts were first raised about the veracity of the dramatic advances in stem cell research announced by Professor Hwang Woo-Suk, a significant minority response was to question the qualifications of journalists to investigate the matter. In this paper I examine the contemporary relationships between science, scientists, the public, and the media. In the modern context the progress of science often relies on the media to mobilise public support for research and also for the purpose of communication within the scientific (...)
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