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Can we Develop Artificial Agents Capable of Making Good Moral Decisions?

Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen: Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, Oxford University Press, 2009, xi + 273 pp, ISBN: 978-0-19-537404-9

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  1. In Moor’s framework, an autopilot (which in Wallach and Allen’s scheme exhibits some degree of functional morality, despite its low level of sensitivity to ethical values) would qualify as an implicit ethical agent.

  2. For example, Luciano Floridi defines a moral agent in the context of information technology as “any interactive, autonomous, and adaptable transition system that can perform morally qualifiable actions”. [Italics Floridi] And he defines a system as “autonomous” when it can “change state without direct response to interaction, that is, it can perform internal transitions to change its state”. See [2].

  3. Floridi and Sanders argue in several of their papers that AAs (and, for that matter, all “information entities”) have moral standing because they qualify as “moral patients” that deserve moral consideration from moral agents, regardless of whether or not these entities can be full-blown moral agents. See, for example [3].

  4. Consider, for example, the insight of Hans Jonas, who, in response to challenges affecting nuclear technology and its implications for the ecosystem, as well as for future generations of humans, asked whether we need a “new framework of ethics” to account for “new objects of moral consideration” that were introduced by technological developments in the twentieth century. See [6].


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  8. Moor, J. H. (2006). The nature, importance, and difficulty of machine ethics. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(4), 18–21.

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Correspondence to Herman T. Tavani.

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Tavani, H.T. Can we Develop Artificial Agents Capable of Making Good Moral Decisions?. Minds & Machines 21, 465–474 (2011).

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