Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 55–66 | Cite as

Artificial evil and the foundation of computer ethics

  • Luciano Floridi
  • J.W. Sanders


Moral reasoning traditionally distinguishes two types of evil:moral (ME) and natural (NE). The standard view is that ME is theproduct of human agency and so includes phenomena such as war,torture and psychological cruelty; that NE is the product ofnonhuman agency, and so includes natural disasters such asearthquakes, floods, disease and famine; and finally, that morecomplex cases are appropriately analysed as a combination of MEand NE. Recently, as a result of developments in autonomousagents in cyberspace, a new class of interesting and importantexamples of hybrid evil has come to light. In this paper, it iscalled artificial evil (AE) and a case is made for considering itto complement ME and NE to produce a more adequate taxonomy. Byisolating the features that have led to the appearance of AE,cyberspace is characterised as a self-contained environment thatforms the essential component in any foundation of the emergingfield of Computer Ethics (CE). It is argued that this goes someway towards providing a methodological explanation of whycyberspace is central to so many of CE's concerns; and it isshown how notions of good and evil can be formulated incyberspace. Of considerable interest is how the propensity for anagent's action to be morally good or evil can be determined evenin the absence of biologically sentient participants and thusallows artificial agents not only to perpetrate evil (and forthat matter good) but conversely to `receive' or `suffer from'it. The thesis defended is that the notion of entropy structure,which encapsulates human value judgement concerning cyberspace ina formal mathematical definition, is sufficient to achieve thispurpose and, moreover, that the concept of AE can be determinedformally, by mathematical methods. A consequence of this approachis that the debate on whether CE should be considered unique, andhence developed as a Macroethics, may be viewed, constructively,in an alternative manner. The case is made that whilst CE issuesare not uncontroversially unique, they are sufficiently novel torender inadequate the approach of standard Macroethics such asUtilitarianism and Deontologism and hence to prompt the searchfor a robust ethical theory that can deal with them successfully.The name Information Ethics (IE) is proposed for that theory. Itis argued that the uniqueness of IE is justified by its beingnon-biologically biased and patient-oriented: IE is anEnvironmental Macroethics based on the concept of data entityrather than life. It follows that the novelty of CE issues suchas AE can be appreciated properly because IE provides a newperspective (though not vice versa). In light of the discussionprovided in this paper, it is concluded that Computer Ethics isworthy of independent study because it requires its ownapplication-specific knowledge and is capable of supporting amethodological foundation, Information Ethics.

agent artificial agent artificial evil cyberspace entropy environmentalism evil information ethics Kekes moral evil natural evil nonsubstantialism patient theodicean problem uniqueness debate 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luciano Floridi
    • 1
  • J.W. Sanders
    • 2
  1. 1.Wolfson CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Programming Research Group, OUCLUniversity of OxfordOxford

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