The ethical debate surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) argues whether we are ‘playing god’ by creating a true AI while examining the issue of installing a set of human-friendly ethics within a sentient machine.
The question of who gets to make the final call may well be left to the country that gets there first, and the dominating opinion within their government and scientific community.
Is the birth of artificial intelligence inevitable?
While opinion, expressed through scores of academic papers released from universities the world over every week, may be divided, it is broadly accepted that this event will happen within the next few decades. Caltech, in 2011 created the first artificial neural network in a test tube, the first robot with ‘muscles’ and ‘tendons’ in the form of Ecci.
One paper by Nick Bostrom of Oxford University’s philosophy department stated that ‘there seems currently to be no good ground for assigning a negligible probability to the hypothesis that super-intelligence will be created within the lifespan of some people alive today’. This is a convoluted way of saying that the super-intelligent machines of sci-fi are a very probable future reality.
Roboethics and machine ethics
Roboethics looks at the rights of machines on the same level as human rights. It’s something of a reality check to consider what rights a sentient robot would have, such as freedom of speech and self-expression.
Machine ethics is slightly different and applies to computers and other systems sometimes referred to as artificial moral agents (AMAs). A good example of this is in the military and the philosophical conundrum of where the responsibility would lie if somebody died in ‘friendly fire’ from an artificially intelligent drone. Can the machine be court-martialled for instance?
In a short story written in 1942, Isaac Asimov defined his Three Laws of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
This cleverly-devised trio of behaviour-governing rules appears infallible, but how would they fare in real life? Asimov’s series of stories on the subject hinted that no rules could adequately govern behaviour in an entirely fail-safe way in all potential situations, and inspired the 2004 movie of the same name, ‘I, Robot’.
Who gets to call the shots?
Several controversial areas of development such as biotechnology also raise the question of whether or not we’re trying to play God. It seems almost inevitable scientific progress will thoroughly push the boundaries over the coming decades, with our endless curiosity and possible commercial applications making a potent combination that will inevitably keep moving things forward.
So where does this place artificial intelligence technology? Surely, the power potentially commanded by an artificial super-intelligence, the technology it could create, and the devastation it could wreak if it got out of control, puts it in a whole different ballpark to artificially creating algae to harness the energy of sunlight?
Japan, arguably the current frontrunner for robotics systems, is faced with a shrinking population comprised of an increasing percentage of elderly people in need of pensions and healthcare funded by limited numbers of working taxpayers; it seems unlikely that Japan will suddenly hold back due to the ethical debate.
As interesting as it is to consider the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, it’s easy to overlook the fact that this is a global human race issue rather than a country-specific issue. Perhaps with the increasing effect of the Internet meshing us all together, some decisions will be made in the global fashion that they deserve.
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