Machine Medical Ethics

Volume 74 of the series Intelligent Systems, Control and Automation: Science and Engineering pp 111-127


Moral Ecology Approaches to Machine Ethics

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Wallach and Allen’s seminal book, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, categorized theories of machine ethics by the types of algorithms each employs (e.g., top-down vs. bottom-up), ultimately concluding that a hybrid approach would be necessary. Humans are hybrids individually: our brains are wired to adapt our evaluative approach to our circumstances. For example, stressors can inhibit the action of oxytocin in the brain, thus forcing a nurse who usually acts from subjective empathy to defer to objective rules instead. In contrast, ecosystem approaches to ethics promote hybridization across, rather than within, individuals; the nurse being empowered to specialize in personalized care because other workers specialize in standardization, and profitability. Various philosophers have argued, or laid the framework to argue, that such specialization can be advantageous to teams and societies. Rather than mass-produce identical machines to emulate the best individual human, perhaps we should build diverse teams of machines to emulate the best human teams.