Artificial intelligence and African conceptions of personhood

Abstract

Under what circumstances if ever ought we to grant that Artificial Intelligences (AI) are persons? The question of whether AI could have the high degree of moral status that is attributed to human persons has received little attention. What little work there is employs western conceptions of personhood, while non-western approaches are neglected. In this article, I discuss African conceptions of personhood and their implications for the possibility of AI persons. I focus on an African account of personhood that is prima facie inimical to the idea that AI could ever be ‘persons’ in the sense typically attributed to humans. I argue that despite its apparent anthropocentrism, this African account could admit AI as persons.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This relative neglect, particularly of African conceptions is noted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Thanks to Fabio Fossa for directing me to this: https://standards.ieee.org/content/dam/ieeestandards/standards/web/documents/other/ead_classical_ethics_ais_v2.pdf.

  2. 2.

    There is a burgeoning number of related projects. Some international examples are the United States’ BRAIN initiative and the Japanese ‘Brainminds’ project. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for these examples.

  3. 3.

    Note that I am not suggesting that these are the only, or even the most plausible versions of the utilitarian and deontological accounts. They are primarily here for illustrative purposes. It is also worthwhile mentioning that the ‘capacitarian’ idea proposed here has been criticised.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to the organisers and participants at the Third Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) Symposium at the University of Johannesburg, at the Philosophical Society of South Africa at the University of Pretoria, and at the International Ethics Conference at the University of Porto.

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Wareham, C.S. Artificial intelligence and African conceptions of personhood. Ethics Inf Technol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-020-09541-3

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Keywords

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Moral status
  • Personhood
  • African ethics
  • Anthropocentrism