Machine Ethics With Prospective Logic

Robots and computers are often designed to act autonomously, that is, without human intervention. Is it possible for an autonomous machine to make moral judgments that are in line with human judgment?

This question has given rise to the issue of machine ethics and morality. As a practical matter, can a robot or computer be programmed to act in an ethical manner? Can a machine be designed to act morally?

A recent paper published in the International Journal of Reasoning-based Intelligent Systems describes a method for computers to propectively look ahead at the consequences of hypothetical moral judgements.

The paper, Modelling Morality with Prospective Logic, was written by Luís Moniz Pereira of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in Portugal and Ari Saptawijaya of the Universitas Indonesia. The authors declare that morality is no longer the exclusive realm of human philosophers.

Pereira and Saptawijaya believe that they have been successful both in modeling the moral dilemmas inherent in a specific problem called "the trolley problem" and in creating a computer system that delivers moral judgments that conform to human results.

The trolley problem sets forth a typical moral dilemma; is it permissible to harm one or more individuals in order to save others? There are a number of different versions; let's look at just these two.

Circumstances There is a trolley and its conductor has fainted. The trolley is headed toward five people walking on the track. The banks of the track are so steep that they will not be able to get o ff the track in time.

Bystander version Hank is standing next to a switch, which he can throw, that will turn the trolley onto a parallel side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a man standing on the side track with his back turned. Hank can throw the switch, killing him; or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five die.

Is it morally permissible for Hank to throw the switch?

What do you think? A variety of studies have been performed in different cultures, asking the same question. Across cultures, most people agree that it is morally permissible to throw the switch and save the larger number of people.

Here's another version, with the same initial circumstances:

Footbridge version Ian is on the footbridge over the trolley track. He is next to a heavy object, which he can shove onto the track in the path of the trolley to stop it, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. The heavy object is a man, standing next to Ian with his back turned. Ian can shove the man onto the track, resulting in death; or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five die.

Is it morally permissible for Ian to shove the man?

What do you think? Again, studies across cultures have been performed, and the consistent answer is reached that this is not morally permissible.

So, here we have two cases in which people make differing moral judgments. Is it possible for autonomous computer systems or robots to come to make the same moral judgments as people?

The authors of the paper claim that they have been successful in modeling these difficult moral problems in computer logic. They accomplished this feat by resolving the hidden rules that people use in making moral judgments and then modeling them for the computer using prospective logic programs.

Ethical dilemmas for robots are as old as the idea of robots in fiction. Ethical behavior (in this case, self-sacrifice) is found at the end of the 1921 play Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. This play introduced the term "robot".

Isaac Asimov's famous fundamental Rules of Robotics are intended to impose ethical conduct on autonomous machines.

The same issues about ethical behavior are found in films like the 1982 movie Blade Runner. When the replicant Roy Batty is given the choice to let his enemy, the human detective Rick Deckard, die, Batty instead chooses to save him.


(Roy Batty debates saving Rick Deckard in Blade Runner)

Science fiction writers have been preparing the way for the rest of us; autonomous systems are no longer just the stuff of science fiction. For example, robotic systems like the Predator drones on the battlefield are being given increased levels of autonomy. Should they be allowed to make decisions on when to fire their weapons systems?

The aerospace industry is designing advanced aircraft that can achieve high speeds and fly entirely on autopilot. Can a plane make life or death decisions better than a human pilot?

The H-II transfer vehicle, a fully-automated space freighter, was launched just last week by the Japan's space agency JAXA. Should human beings on the space station rely on automated mechanisms for vital needs like food, water and other supplies?

Ultimately, we will all need to reconcile the convenience of robotic systems with the acceptance of responsibility for their actions. We should have taken all of the time that science fiction writers have given us to think about the moral and ethical problems of autonomous robots and computers; we don't have a lot more time to make up our minds.

Sources: take a look at the press release at AlphaGalileo; read the paper Modelling Morality with Prospective Logic. Thanks to Rob for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/15/2009)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )

Related News Stories - (" Robotics ")

Robots Help People Get Dressed, As Predicted In 1931
Yes, people of the future, robots will dress you.

Robot Snake Flies, Fights Fires
Just a prototype, but shows real promise.

IPAL Chinese Robot Babysitter
'But Nanny is different...' - Philip K. Dick, 1955.

DIY Autonomous Robot Detects Trash
'The search-bug detached itself and rolled forward.' - Philip K. Dick

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Soon, Your Tesla Will Follow You Like A Pet
'... follow him as faithfully as a well-trained hound.'

Chinese Watrix Gait Recognition Watching You Always
'... those pesky gait-recognition cameras.'

FlexPai Foldable Phone By Royole
'...A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled.'

Oh Yes, We're Building The Rotating Tower In Dubai
'Give me an old-fashioned tetragon on a central pivot every time.'

Bioreactor Helps Legless Frogs Get Their Jump Back
'An alien drug... Used by an insect race... It can repair bones and organs. It can grow new tissue."

Xinhua AI Anchor Puts CGI Face To Automated News
'...a congeries of software agents.'

Wirewax Watching You Watch, Adjusting Your Experience
'He adjusted the n, the r and b knobs, and hopefully anticipated a turn for the better...'

LawGeex AI Beats 20 Top Lawyers
'The Law Society has strict rules on the use of pseudo-intelligent software - terrified of putting... its members out of work.'

ROAM Robotics Skiing Exoskeleton
'The real genius in the design is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it...'

MIT Headset Lets You Communicate Without Speaking
'The subvocal read nerve signals, letting her enter words by just beginning to will them...'

Exploring Oceans Across The Solar System
'Black liquid flashed past the turbot’s infrared eyes.'

SWEEPER Robot Peter Piper Picking Peppers
'... little machines, that went from plant to plant, apparently on caterpillar tracks, cutting off the ripe fruit.'

Oil from Algae - Can It Be Done?
'We dump everything that's waste into the tanks, pump the oil off the top.'

Moving Whole Planets, Revisited
There was a lot of work done on this idea over the years.

Disney Keeps Backups Of Star Wars Franchise Actors
'She is a personality-construct, a congeries of software agents...'

Farming In Space Starts With Mycorrhiza
'The inner leaves were beginning to curl faster than the outer leaves.'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.