, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 495–521 | Cite as

Ethics and consciousness in artificial agents

  • Steve TorranceEmail author
Original Article


In what ways should we include future humanoid robots, and other kinds of artificial agents, in our moral universe? We consider the Organic view, which maintains that artificial humanoid agents, based on current computational technologies, could not count as full-blooded moral agents, nor as appropriate targets of intrinsic moral concern. On this view, artificial humanoids lack certain key properties of biological organisms, which preclude them from having full moral status. Computationally controlled systems, however advanced in their cognitive or informational capacities, are, it is proposed, unlikely to possess sentience and hence will fail to be able to exercise the kind of empathic rationality that is a prerequisite for being a moral agent. The organic view also argues that sentience and teleology require biologically based forms of self-organization and autonomous self-maintenance. The organic view may not be correct, but at least it needs to be taken seriously in the future development of the field of Machine Ethics.


Moral Responsibility Moral Status Moral Agent Humanoid Robot Artificial Agent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper is the result of long-standing dialogues that the author has had with various members of the Machine Consciousness and Machine Ethics communities. It is a much revised and expanded version of ‘A Robust View of Machine Ethics’, delivered at the AAAI Fall 2005 Symposium on Machine Ethics, Arlington, VA (Anderson et al. 2005). I am grateful, for helpful discussions on aspects of the above paper, to Igor Aleksander, Colin Allen, Michael Anderson, Susan Anderson, Selmer Bringsjord, David Calverley, Ron Chrisley, Robert Clowes, Ruth Crocket, Hanne De Jaegher, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Kathleen Richardson, Aaron Sloman, Iva Smit, Wendell Wallach and Blay Whitby; and also members of the ETHICBOTS group at Middlesex and the PAICS group at Sussex. However, these people may not easily identify, or identify with, the ways their inputs have been taken up and used.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health and Social SciencesMiddlesex UniversityEnfieldUK
  2. 2.Centre for Research in Cognitive Science (COGS)University of SussexFalmer, BrightonUK

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