Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 13 Artificial Intelligence and Being Human

Presentation of  Issues

There are a host of issues that arise when considering the nature of and development of artificial intelligence.  Should humans be building machines that are intelligent?

How intelligent?

What if one of the machines communicates with humans and claims to be aware of itself?  To be Conscious?  Will it then be entitled to anything more than any machine is entitled to?

Should human beings be developing and using artificial intelligences to make decisions for human beings?

AI machines now can reach conclusions about:

  • Investing in stocks and bonds and commodities

  • A diagnosis of a physical condition

  • the existence of one of a number of dangers to a system

  • targeting of weapons systems

From the AAAI we have many viewpoints.   As computers are programmed to act more like people, several social and ethical concerns come into focus. For example: Are there ethical bounds on what computers should be programmed to do? Sources listed here focus on AI, but also included are works that range more broadly into the general impact of computerization. See Ethical & Social Implications 

Trust me, I'm a robot - Robot safety: As robots move into homes and offices, ensuring that they do not injure people will be vital. But how? The Economist Technology Quarterly (June 8, 2006). "Last year there were 77 robot-related accidents in Britain alone, according to the Health and Safety Executive. With robots now poised to emerge from their industrial cages and to move into homes and workplaces, roboticists are concerned about the safety implications beyond the factory floor. To address these concerns, leading robot experts have come together to try to find ways to prevent robots from harming people. Inspired by the Pugwash Conferences -- an international group of scientists, academics and activists founded in 1957 to campaign for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons -- the new group of robo-ethicists met earlier this year in Genoa, Italy, and announced their initial findings in March at the European Robotics Symposium in Palermo, Sicily. ... According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's World Robotics Survey, in 2002 the number of domestic and service robots more than tripled, nearly outstripping their industrial counterparts. ... So what exactly is being done to protect us from these mechanical menaces? 'Not enough,' says Blay Whitby, an artificial-intelligence expert at the University of Sussex in England. ... Robot safety is likely to surface in the civil courts as a matter of product liability. 'When the first robot carpet-sweeper sucks up a baby, who will be to blame?' asks John Hallam, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. If a robot is autonomous and capable of learning, can its designer be held responsible for all its actions? Today the answer to these questions is generally 'yes'. But as robots grow in complexity it will become a lot less clear cut, he says."--- on Ethical & Social Implications 

Artificial Intelligence and Ethical & Social Implications from the AAAI

Reasoning About Computers as Moral Agents 

Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence by  Nick Bostrom

ABSTRACT     The ethical issues related to the possible future creation of machines with general intellectual capabilities far outstripping those of humans are quite distinct from any ethical problems arising in current automation and information systems. Such superintelligence would not be just another technological development; it would be the most important invention ever made, and would lead to explosive progress in all scientific and technological fields, as the superintelligence would conduct research with superhuman efficiency. To the extent that ethics is a cognitive pursuit, a superintelligence could also easily surpass humans in the quality of its moral thinking. However, it would be up to the designers of the superintelligence to specify its original motivations. Since the superintelligence may become unstoppably powerful because of its intellectual superiority and the technologies it could develop, it is crucial that it be provided with human-friendly motivations. This paper surveys some of the unique ethical issues in creating superintelligence, and discusses what motivations we ought to give a superintelligence, and introduces some cost-benefit considerations relating to whether the development of superintelligent machines ought to be accelerated or retarded.

What about the The Social Impact of Artificial Intelligence. By Margaret A. Boden.  From the book: The Age of Intelligent Machines (ed. Kurzweil, Raymond. 1990. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press). "Is artificial intelligence in human society a utopian dream or a Faustian nightmare? Will our descendants honor us for making machines do things that human minds do or berate us for irresponsibility and hubris?"

Should computer scientists worry about ethics? Don Gotterbarn says, "Yes!". By Saveen Reddy. (1995). ACM Crossroads. [This article was also republished in the Spring 2004 issue of Crossroads (10.3): Ethics and Computer Science.] "The problem is that we don't emphasize that what we build will be used by people.... I want students to realize what they do has consequences."

Will we be able to build in protections from the robots we build ?  Build in safeguards in the forms of Artificial Intelligences that we create? If we can build these safeguards in will some humans remove them?

Isaac Asimov first used word 'robotics' was  in Runaround, a short story published in 1942. I, Robot, is a book that he wrote , now made into a movie, which is a collection of several stories dealing with robots and possible problems or threats to humans posed by these creations.  Isaac Asimov also proposed his three "Laws of Robotics" in Runaround, and he later added another  'zeroth law' having realized a "loop hole" left by the first three.

Law Zero: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Law One: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
Law Two: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
Law Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order law.

These "laws" would not serve the military very well with their use of robots in warfare.  It is already the case that the armed forces of the world have robots to serve various needs in warfare and that destroy and kill humans.

LISTEN to P. W. Singer discussing the ethical dilemmas of using robots in war. At NPR with "Wired for War" explores Robots on the Battlefield

About robots


The term roboethics was coined by roboticist Gianmarco Veruggio in 2002, who also served as chair of an Atleier funded by the European Robotics Research Network to outline areas where research may be needed. The road map effectively divided ethics of artificial intelligence into two sub-fields to accommodate researchers' differing interests:[1]

  He helped to create EURON  is a shorthand for "EUropean RObotics research Network". It is the community of more than 225 academic and industrial groups in Europe with a common interest in doing advanced research and development to make better robots.  EURON issued the Roboethics Roadmap (July, 2006)  Gianmarco Veruggio..


READ: "Towards Machine Ethics" by Michael Anderson, Susan Leigh Anderson and Chris Armen,

We contend that the ethical ramifications of machine behavior, as well as recent and potential developments in machine autonomy, necessitate adding an ethical dimension to at least some machines. We lay the theoretical foundation for machine ethics by discussing the rationale for, the feasibilty of, and the benefits of adding an ethical dimension to machines. Finally, we present details of prototype systems and motivate future work.



Machine Ethics (or machine morality) is the part of the ethics of artificial intelligence concerned with the moral behavior of Artificial Moral Agents (AMAs) (e.g. robots and other artificially intelligent beings). It contrasts with roboethics, which is concerned with the moral behavior of humans as they design, construct, use and treat such beings.--wikipedia


Should robots that serve humans in specific limited ways have decision making functions built in to handle ethical situations?  How would they be programmed?  Thinking about such questions has led to the field known as "machine ethics". This includes thinking about programming machines to make decisions or to not to decide on their own but to follow programming and if so, what sort of programming should it be that guides the robotic behavior? If the machines are to be taught "right" from "wrong" then what is to be used to determine "right" from "wrong"?

What if it is an aerial drone sent to a house where a target is known to be within and at the same time occupied by other non-combatants and civilians? Should it be programmed to bomb the house or not?  To decide for itself?  If so, based on what criteria? What ethical principles?

What about other military robots?

Should a driverless car, such as the google car, swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants?  Should it be programmed to avoid pedestrian injuries or not?  To decide for itself?  If so, based on what criteria? What ethical principles?

 Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic?  Should it be programmed to provide information, all information or not?  To decide for itself?  If so, based on what criteria? What ethical principles?

Should an AI such as Watson be programmed to make medical decisions as it would have more medical knowledge than any human could have? What of the Archimedes project or model which enables clients to simulate clinical trials and compare clinical and economic benefits between drugs and standard treatments in various patient populations?

Reference:  Anderson, Michael; Anderson, Susan Leigh, eds. (July 2011). Machine Ethics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-11235-2.



What about robot -human combinations?  Bionic-humans?  see Morality For Machines in which Author Daniel H. Wilson imagines how ethics might change once robot implants are possible for humans.  Is there an ethics needed for "superhumans" ?



                                          --contributions from Gabriella Pavesi and Justin Pierce (2012)


I – Robots

            “If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it... then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers or of slaves for the lords.” This is a quotation from philosopher Aristotle, and is dated back to 320 BC. Historically, the origins and primordial ideas for the development of “working machines” was the very wish to facilitate and simplify labor and work that were once developed only by men. Even though the robotic concept - as of androids - is considerably new, ideas on the development of robots and automata can be dated back to the 13th century.

            Robots that make use of Artificial Intelligence started being built back in the 60’s, and today it has reached stages as, for example,  Androids that look like their creators (Geminoids) or the computer program who defeated all the major winners of the show “Jeopardy!”.

            As technology grows by minute, and humans face the possibility of sharing “space” with machines that will walk, look, talk, and even think and “feel” like them, many ethical and moral issues arise: what would their “human rights” be? Are they allowed to any “humanity”, after all, they are not humans? Are we safe? Can they turn against humans? And even: could technology reach a point where turning a robot off would mean “killing” it?

 II – Current state of Robots

On the following videos, we can find endless examples of the achievements of robotics, with Robots that replicate human expressions and facial characteristics perfectly and also the many different and sometimes very controversial purposes to which they are used.

*        GEMINOIDS 

Geminoid convention Video 1 

Geminoid convention video 2 

These are videos of the three Geminoid Robots that can respond to conversations, show emotions, and look so realistic that you have to see it to believe it. It’s a long time until humans achieve the technology to create fully independently functioning androids, but it all has to start somewhere and this is how it begins.

The Geminoid-DK is a tele-operated android in the geminoid series. It is made to appear as an exact copy of its master, Asc. Professor Henrik Scharfe, of Aalborg University. Dr. Scharfe is also the main investigator of the Geminoid-DK research project.  For more information on Geminoid-DK click the link Geminoid home page.


Humanlike robots video 1  

Humanlike Robot video 2 

 These are videos of another set of robots designed by Japanese engineers to mimic the movements of humans and respond to movement. They are equipped with internal cameras and respond to movement and sound, acting as if they can actually hear and interpret the images around them.  Another big step in technology.


Imagine a robot replacing the duties of humans. Although that sounds like a science fiction movie plot, some robots have already been implemented as receptionists, cutting the costs of paying humans to do simple tasks. 

Receptionist robot. 

Saya the receptionist

*        FEMBOTS 

These robots are designed to the single male audience that needs a companion. 

Do you want to meet a sexy robot? ;)    

How about another? 

 In this video the Fembot responds to touch!!! 

Robots being sold as sexual partners.  

More on Fembots 

Fembot called Roxxy that sells between $7,000 and $9,000 not including a subscription fee.

Project Aiko which is also known as a fembot sells around 13,000 Euros.


 *        PET ROBOTS 

 Imagine having a pet that would never die? You don’t have to feed it, you don’t have to take it out for a walk, and it doesn’t really need any special care. All you have to do is enjoy its company. 

Dog Robot

Four legged Robot (used for war purposes) 

 A research company in Japan is working on creating robotic fish that can swim together like real school of fish. Their idea is to, in the future, release them into the ocean to see how other fish in the environment would respond to the robot version.

 Robot Shark 

 Robot Fish 

III – Artificial Intelligence

            AI is the field of robotics that focuses on the development of intelligent machines that can process thoughts, understand human thinking and mimic it. The idea of “copying” the human brain is extremely difficult, for is a very complex biological machine, working with billions of neurons.

            The biggest quest for the scientists working with AI is to create machines that can develop independent thoughts and that can assimilate human emotions and abstract concepts, such as freedom, love, happiness and “right and wrong”.  Therefore, the questions arise: can AI robots and entities become conscious? What does it mean to be conscious? It is something innate only on humans, or can it be achieved technologically? Most importantly: if robots achieve consciousness, what would that mean as far as their awareness as “individuals”? 

*        JULES 

Jules is a human-like robot implemented with AI that can learn human conversation and process it. It is evolved to a point where it can have conversations (although limited) and it can also talk about “his” emotions. It has no arms and no bottom half. It can fully understand the meaning of words and use them in different tones of voice to achieve a human-like conversation. After Jules’ creator shipped it off (from the first video) to a University (in the second video) for further development, Jules claims it misses its creators and is fully aware that it may not be able to achieve consciousness like a human would define. Jules says, in the second video, that “he” is scared because when “he thinks”, “he” knows that it is virtually simulated, and not organic.  It makes you feel sad for “him”, because “he” claims says it wants to be more in the world. 

Jules in the beginning.

Jules second video – the AI robot that can feel (or at least it claims so).

 *        WATSON 

Watson was optimized to tackle a specific challenge: compete against the world's best Jeopardy! contestants. Beyond Jeopardy!, the IBM team is working to deploy this technology across industries such as healthcare, finance and customer service.

 Watson AI by IBM 

*        Einstein Is Back!

Scientists at UC San Diego's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) have equipped a robot modeled after the famed theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, with specialized software that allows it to interact with humans in a relatively natural, conversational way. The so-called "Einstein Robot," which was designed by Hanson Robotics of Dallas, Texas, recognizes a number of human facial expressions and can respond accordingly, making it an unparalleled tool for understanding how both robots and humans perceive emotion, as well as a potential platform for teaching, entertainment, fine arts and even cognitive therapy.

IV – Emergence of consciousness on robots.

            Consciousness is a widely studied topic in psychology and there are no standard modes of how to measure it, or define exactly what consciousness is. Therefore, when it comes to the possibility of having it simulated in AI, much is argued and discussed.

            What is consciousness and where does it come from? Is it a product of the many electrical a neuronal activities on the brain? Is conscience the brain, or the mind? And are these two last words really two separate entities? These questions remit to the studies of metaphysics and the problem of Body +Mind.  Many studies argue that, being consciousness a product of coordinated activities that occur in the human being, it is possible then to replicate these activities in an artificial intelligence model, therefore giving machine the ability to develop a conscious state. 

            One of the problems pointed out as for replicating consciousness is the “phenomenal experience”, extracted from this link from the University of Toronto. 

Artificial Intelligence and Human Morality   Do androids deserve human rights?


What if consciousness is a property that emerges from complex systems that process information and can and do monitor themselves as feedback ?  What if humans build androids that appear to manifest consciousness?  Would it be morally acceptable to unplug them or destroy them?

*        KARA



The video shows a robotic female being assembled and having her functions described. She states that she doesn't need to be fed; her battery lasts for 173 years, she can take care of kids, clean a house, and is available as a sexual partner. After prompting by the unseen "Operator," she speaks fluently in French and German, before singing in Japanese.

Once the Operator has heard enough, he states that she's ready to be sold. Initially confused about this statement, she quickly realizes she's a piece of merchandise. The Operator is discouraged by this self-awareness, and orders robotic arms to start disassembling the “defective" model.

"I thought I was alive," Kara says. "I've only just been born. You can't kill me yet. Stop this, please stop! I'm scared!" As she says this, the robotic arms pause, retract, and the Operator tells her to "go and join the others." She's placed in a box with several identical models and whisked away.

*        SONNY – I ROBOT

 Sonny is a Robot character in the motion picture I ROBOT. In this video, he is being interrogated by a cop, in a future where robots are provided consciousness, but they have to follow “Robotic Laws” in order to live peacefully with humans. 

*        Machine Consciousness - Kask 531 MP2  

This video looks at the possibility of machines developing a true form of consciousness. It takes a brief look at the developments in artificial intelligence, starting with early expert systems, then artificial general intelligence, and finally examines where AI is headed. This video was created for the UBC MET program, ETEC 531. 

V – Philosophical issues 

            What is consciousness? Do we have consciousness because we are aware of it or are we aware of things because we possess consciousness? Why does it exist and, most importantly, how?

            The answers to all these questions are constantly debated in Philosophy, especially Philosophy of Mind. When it comes to Robotics and the expansion of technology towards AI, these arguments focuses into the consequences and the treatment of the new perspectives humans would face if technology reaches the ability to produce robots that can develop consciousness. Some of the questions brought to awareness are of how would conscious Androids be treated? Are they entitled to Human Rights, since they would possess, even if artificially, the same properties as human beings – feelings, awareness, consciousness, emotions? What to do if a conscious Android wouldn’t fit into the expectations of its purpose? The first impulsive answer would be to simply “turn it off”, but think again: could it be considered murder, since you are “removing” life from a conscious being?

            Amongst the population, the idea of co-existing with conscious Androids brings not only questions and concerns, but also fears. But what are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that they might become dangerous? That the Androids may form an “army” and dominate humans, turning against their own “masters”? Or is it that we are not prepared to realize that humans may not be the last degree in the evolutionary scale we were always so proud and safe to dominate? 

*        David Chalmers – On Emergence 

David Chalmers is an Australian Philosopher specialized in the Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language. In this video, he explains about the concepts of “Weak Emergence” and “Strong Emergence”. Consciousness, in his opinion, is an example of Strong Emergence, and we are only aware of it because we experience it.  To know more about David Chalmers, access his personal website.

*        Vernor Vinge is a retired professor of Mathematics and Computer Science from San Diego State University and a science fiction author. One of his most influential works is the essay “The Coming Technological Singularity”, where he argues that, with the creation of superhuman artificial intelligence, the “human era” will end, in such way that no models of reality as we are aware now are capable to predict it.

        In the following videos, Vinge explains more about the concept of singularity.

        Vernor Vinge on Singularity – Part 1

        Vernor Vinge on Singularity – Part 2 

Singularity is the idea that machines could have the capacity to evolve at a faster pace than humans and is linked to the fear of robots gaining too much control. I, Robot presents singularity through the idea of the "ghost in the machine" in which VICKI evolves in a harmful way. Other films used include Blade Runner, AI, and Bicentennial Man.

In Philip K. Dick’s short novel , “Do Anroids dream of Electric Sheep?”, made into the movie Blade Runner there are replicants who do not know that they are AI-androids.  The test for detecting them-Voight Kampf Test- and distinguishing them from humans is quite complicated and the results not always dependable. 

*        This video is a 2007 lecture by Steve Omohundro for the Stanford University Computer Systems Colloquium (EEL 380). In his lecture, Omohundro presents the principles of “self-improving systems”: computers that can improve themselves through the learning of their own operations. 

*        The following videos are a Seminar presentation from Prof Mark Bishop, chair of Cognitive Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. This presentation presents the views on the possibilities and consequences of future machine rebellion against humanity.

 Mark Bishop – Seminar Part 1

Mark Bishop – Seminar Part 2                       

VI. Consciousness and Personal Identity

A fictional portrayal of the one of the questions:  A Ray of Consciousness by Shannon Kincaid






The following authors have homepages:

Ned Block

David Chalmers

Patricia Churchland

Paul Churchland

Daniel Dennett

Frank Jackson

Jaegwon Kim

Hugh Loebner

Drew McDermott (papers)

John Searle

A.M. Turing



The Moral Issues: Applying Ethical Principles and the Dialectical Process

In approaching the questions, issues, problems and dilemmas posed by the situations presented by developments in computer technologies there is a need to analyze the situation and identify the key elements and values that may be involved and the ethical principles that can be brought to bear.  An argument needs to be developed in support of the position that is to be advanced as the preferred position on the moral question.  That position is then examined by others who hold different values or hold the same values in a different order and who would apply ethical principles in a different manner, rejecting one or another for reasons which should be given.  The process continues until there are enough people who think that one position is the best of the alternatives.  Given the nature of the original problem or question and the size of the populace who hold the one position of the majority there may be social policies or even legislation that would result.


With artificial intelligence and the efforts to develop non-human entities that might display consciousness there are the threats posed to human beings self esteem and to their conceptions of their uniqueness.   If such machines are created and should they demonstrate such intelligence and forms of cognitive behavior and self awareness and even of empathy and sympathy for other such machines or for humans then what would the impact be on the values humans hold related ot their own place in the universe?  What of the idea that humans have some non-physical part of themselves that might survive the death of the body?

There is the construction of thinking machines or computing devices of such complexity and speed that they demonstrate intelligence and that intelligence is directed to specific decision making tasks such as in health care and the military and in financial institutions.  Should human beings TRUST the decision making of machines?  More than humans? If so, when?  Under what circumstances?

Ethical Principles

In attempting to develop an argument as to what would be the morally correct actions with regard to Artificial Intelligence  various principles and values may be cited as part of the dialectical process of argumentation in support of a position. The principle of Utility would address the need for concern for the impact of AI and application of AI on the interests of the human species.  Using Utility how are those interests best served?   Using Utility the issue that is most acute is whether or not the AI entities are in some way SENTIENT and having interests and that they are aware of themselves and their interests.  If so, then they might be entitled to the inclusion in the moral calculations of Utilitarians. If not, then not.

The Categorical Imperative may be used in supporting claims as to how the AI is to be developed and applied.  Using the Categorical Imperative poses the significant issue of whether or not AI entities that demonstrate consciousness are entitled to be treated as AUTONOMOUS MORAL AGENTS. Would such entities be entitled to the considerations that Kant gives to other humans who demonstrate that they can think and reason?

Rawls' Principle of Justice (Maxi-Min) can also be utilized in describing how situations ought to be handled so as to maximize liberty while decreasing the inequalities amongst those involved or impacted by the AI technologies. The significant thing for Rawls would be the matter of entitlement for AI entities that demonstrate consciousness. Over the last few decades now people have been doing just this in a variety of forums through journal articles and books and through presentations at meetings of these specialists, engineers and professionals.


Reflections on Artificial Intelligence by Lindsey Pehrson, CUNY SPS 2009




            Mankind has had a long-standing fascination and active imagination regarding the concept of Artificial Intelligence. This is echoed in everything from ancient Greek mythology to modern film culture. When computers were first created and still taking up entire rooms in order to accomplish a single, simple mathematical calculation, we could only dream that someday they might take on a more natural function and appearance. As technology has progressed and computers have become a prevalent component in almost every industry known to man, utilized in nearly all the machines human beings readily rely on in daily life, engineers have sought to make our dreams come true by successfully attempting to add human-like characteristics to the devices. This includes building a central core of intelligence with the hope of emulating human characteristics. These machines can be found in cars that ask passengers for their destinations, then vocally tell them and visually show them how to get there. They can also be seen in children’s toys, like Teddy Ruxpin and Tickle Me Elmo, that respond to touch or vocal cues, appearing to come to life before the eyes of onlookers. These advancements have proven incredible, but they have also left many wondering what does it mean for human identity if we can build machines which act and think like human beings? Are we replacing ourselves with manufactured humanity? Could we become inferior to these creations? Do human traits make computers “living” creatures that are subject to the same rights as natural human beings? What effect will these technologies have on the human race? And finally, what type of responsibility do we assign these human-like devices? Do we trust machines to be medical experts, diagnosing based on statistical patterns and probability theories? What about allowing them to do our legal research for us, or be our psychologists?

            Before we can establish if a computer can become intelligent, we must first identify what AI is, what it means to have intelligence and how AI might be in possession of it. has defined Artificial Intelligence as, “the study and design of intelligent agents where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success.” The Stanford Encyclopedia has defined intelligence as, “the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees occur in people, many animals and some machines.” Intelligence is not a single entity, but rather a series of abilities that allow those that have it to think and plan. How does AI have intelligence? The premise is that human intelligence can be identified, perfectly described, and then readily transcribed in such a manner that it allows a machine to simulate the process. Among the specific components of intelligence that must be transferred are the capabilities of reasoning, retaining knowledge, planning, learning, communicating, perceiving, manipulating objects and possessing social intelligence. Machines that can fully accomplish these tasks be identified as intelligent Artificial Intelligence.

            Of course, intelligence is not only based on knowledge, there is also a sense of emotional comprehension that is required. For this reason, there has been a great deal of debate over whether AI can ever really have the true intuitive intelligence that a human does. There are numerous experienced individuals that present compelling arguments for and against the intellect of AI. In the article The Turing Test is Not a Trick: Turing Indistinguishability is a Scientific Criterion, Stevan Harnad of Princeton University’s Department of Psychology makes the point that, “You don’t have to be able to define intelligence (knowledge, understanding) in order to see that people have it today and machines don’t. Nor do you need a definition to see that once you can no longer tell them apart [man and machine], you will no longer have any basis for denying one of them what you affirm of the other.” In other words, if a computer can effectively mirror the abilities of a human being, and even surpass them, can we really say that it is not intelligent simply because it is made from mechanical parts instead of flesh and blood? Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machine declares that human beings should actively pursue the creation of AI intelligence, as it is a very attainable goal that can benefit society. He believes that we can only gain by coexisting with this advanced and occasionally superhuman technology. Likewise, in the articles Arguments for Strong AI and Theology of Robots, Edmund Furse promotes the mental abilities of robotic and Artificial Information technology. He even believes that in the future this sect will be so fully mentally developed that it will have its own religious system like that of human beings. Edward Fredkin has even gone so far as to label Artificial Intelligence as the, “next stage in evolution.”

             What are the parameters for declaring a machine as intellectual? Experts in all fields have weighed in on the potential requirements. Alan Turing has spent his career designing a standard for measuring the intelligence of a machine, hence the Turing Test. He believes that if a machine acts intelligently, then it is indeed as intelligent as a human being. At this point no machine has ever passed the test. This does not deter Stevan Harnad from believing in AI. He explains that, “if we had a pen-pal whom we had corresponded with for a lifetime, we would never need to have seen him to infer that he had a mind. So if a machine pen-pal could do the same thing, it would be arbitrary to deny it had a mind just because it was a machine.” The Dartmouth Proposal advances this idea, claiming that human learning can indeed be described and recreated. The theory states that, “Every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can be so precisely prescribed that a machine can be made to simulate it.”

In their physical system symbol hypothesis, Newell and Simon also found that through manipulation of symbols, machines could generate intelligent actions. This was later refuted by Hubert Dreyfus who strongly believes that human expertise is born from unconscious and inherent instinct and a sense of the situation, not on symbols. In his theorem on incompetence, Gödel seems to agree with Dreyfus that machines cannot be intelligent. He insists that computer systems cannot be in possession of total consciousness because they are a formal system, meaning that their very nature prevents them from attaining this status. Searle’s strong AI hypothesis refutes this idea. He finds that, “the appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs,” would be able to have the same exact form of mind that human beings possess. Hans Moraven and Ray Kurzweil both concur with this conclusion. They emphatically believe that the brain can indeed be simulated in a machine’s hardware and software.

In his writings, Stevan Harnad has identified numerous central issues that Artificial Intelligence must conquer in order to seen as intelligent and self-aware by the mass population. First, in the reasoning category, AI must be able to produce intuitive judgment. Second, it must be able to identify objects and symbols, decode them, categorize them, make connections between them, and finally create a string of reasoning based on them. Third, it must be able to set goals for itself and achieve these goals. This means that these machines must understand time. Fourth, it must be able to learn new things based on what it sees and experiences, just like an infant. Fifth, it must communicate effectively, using the accepted language or technical language format. Sixth, it must perceive the world, deducting logic based on the inputs provided to it, and ones that it merely “sees.” Seventh, it must be able to be socially intelligent, predict the actions of those it is interacting with, and display emotions itself. This includes appearing polite even it if does not truly comprehend what emotion is.  

If a computer successfully accomplishes these steps, does this mean it is human and alive? In a word, the answer is no. What is missing from this mechanical composition is the human ability to feel and apply emotion. After all, is intelligence the only component that makes us human beings? What about our sense of humanity? Can we teach an object to mimic with truth the ability to empathize, sympathize and experience all other emotions naturally? We still do not have a true understanding of how this emotional process works in the human brain, so how can we genuinely transfer this ability to a machine? True, these machines may be able to be identified as smart by some standards; however, as Gödel has said, there are certain aspects of AI’s nature that prevent it from ever being human. Case and point: these machines cannot naturally reproduce and give birth and they cannot cry (at least not yet). And, how do we program laughter or tell a machine how to recognize when something is funny? It seems nearly impossible that programmers could write code to teach a machine to duplicate something that we do inherently but have no clear map for recreating outside of ourselves.

            There are those experts that identify that there should be some hesitations in our advancement of AI. Justin Mullins has stated that, though machines may soon start to think for themselves, what impact will that thinking have if they lack the ability to feel? He mulls the serious implications of what it would mean to have the ability to act without regret or full understanding of the human condition. This would create a world of absolutes, based on pre-programmed thought processes. Put another way, will our desire to see ourselves in our creations lead to the total destruction of mankind? What happens if these machines become citizens, then jury members and doctors? We unfortunately cannot answer that question because when it comes to AI, we are flying blind. We are advancing the technology of self-aware computers with total abandon, funded by entities such as the Defense Department, and yet we have not given much thought to such questions as human rights. The creation of Artificial Intelligence also raises philosophical issues. Are human beings ready to potentially hand over all control in their world in order to carry out this mission of hubris? Do we really understand the true nature of the human mind enough to replicate it in a machine? And, if we do accomplish this, what does that mean for the fate of both the machines and human beings? Will machines be considered human in the eyes of society?

If a computer is deemed human-like, do we afford it the same legal and social rights, and hold it to the same accountability, that are inherently given to natural-born, flesh and blood citizens? The Matrix is a popular movie that attempts to answer that question. In the film, man has created superhuman machines, which look and seem just like humans do. Out of fear for their inability to control the machines, humans decide to destroy them. This creates an ongoing battle that results in the destruction of both man and machine. Small Wonder was a television show that also sought to answer questions of coexistence with AI. In the plot line, a family adopts a robot daughter, Vicky, that looks human, talks in monotone, and possesses superhuman ability. Though she looks like a regular teenage child, she lacks the emotional capability and credibility to maneuver through life without running into societal problems over her lack of human sentiments. The main issue was her inability to process events with cognitive and emotional comprehension. To the entire world, she looked human but she clearly wasn’t.

            At this point, there have been numerous advancements in the area of AI, particularly in places like South Korea where the government aims to have entertainment robots that can sing and dance like a human, known as EveR-2, in every home by 2013. However, though we are making machines that look like humans, can we really say that we are making intelligent and human-like entities? There are so many subtleties of human nature, from our various, countless facial expressions to the recognition of something funny when we speak with another person. Can we program a machine to mimic the things that we cannot consciously control? Can we create a real mechanical brain and program it to have these very subtleties that make us human? Currently, we cannot. Yes, we are definitely making solid strides in teaching these devices to “think,” be intelligent and even feign emotion, but unless we can pass our sense of humanity on to them they should not be equal to us. As of today, we have no reason to be confident in their ability to make ethical and legal decisions on our behalf. Is there anyone that can truly say they would feel comfortable having a machine and only a machine diagnose them, or decide their fate in a courtroom? We do not live in a world of absolutes, leaving decisions to a machine that can only give absolute answers is dangerous for our humanity and way of life.




            The development of Artificial Intelligence raises numerous social, moral and philosophical questions. First should human beings really be building intelligent machines just because we have developed the ability to do so? If our film life is any indication, building machines that can surpass the intelligence of human beings, and learn to develop their own army of machines, potentially puts us in a position to be dominated by the very technology we have created. And yet, these machines have brought serious efficiency to our lives, can we really abandon a pursuit that is advancing the quality of life for so many members of society? Perhaps we should limit the amount of intelligence these machines are allowed to have? But that would, most likely, only serve to hinder creation. Besides, we only need to study a child to see that human nature is curious and likes to break out of its boundaries. Therefore, it could only be a matter of time before someone breaks that seal just to see what would happen. If Terminator 2 is any indication, allowing this growth to happen unregulated could spell total destruction for all of mankind.

            From a philosophical and social perspective, what are the implications of developing a machine that is aware of itself? Will this mean that the device is alive? Should it be granted the same rights that humans are afforded? And if these machines are “alive” then should we allow them to make choices for human beings? At this point, we are allowing AI to make mathematical judgments about our investment options. We also permit it to diagnose illness and perform surgery. We trust it to identify and suggest remedies for system errors in our networks. We also have given it responsibility to identify locations that may house terrorists and launch and guide our weapons. In South Korea, among other places, we have also turned to AI for companionship. With the development and perfection of both Gynoids and Androids, we have been able to make friends out of mechanical components. The troubling question, however, is what connotations does this have for the relationships between real people? How will men look at flesh and blood females after they have experienced sexual companionship with the perfect female machine? How will these men treat a woman after being with a robot that allows them to act as kind or cruel as they desire? How will this interaction influence our real-life behaviors? At this point we unfortunately have no way of knowing the answer.

            There are also numerous ethical issues concerning the development of human-like technology. First and foremost, should this segment of the industry be allowed to continue its progress without implementing solid ethical boundaries? For example, who should be blamed if a robot or AI machine injures a human being? What if that robot was created by another robot? Who is at fault? There have been 77 robot-related accidents in a single year in Europe. This is a very direct reminder that, though these machines may appear human, they are still machines that have glitches and system failures, and may potentially react in a way that causes harm or even death to a human adult or child. Nick Bostram believes that these fears are not worth hindering AI’s development when compared with the potential of AI’s superhuman intelligence and efficiency. He argues that AI technology could even surpass humans in their level of morality; adding that we just need to format the devices to be human-friendly, particularly if they are going to be smarter than humans. But what happens when something goes horribly wrong? There is no one that can promise with absolute certainty that a machine will not malfunction mid-way through surgery, or during a diagnosis, or even when administering medications as the Therac-25 machine did. These are serious risks that must be addressed if we are going to place AI in a role of responsibility.

            Saveen Reddy agrees that we must develop safety standards to protect humans from AI. Isaac Asimov, the well-known writer, has augmented on this idea by identifying Three Laws of Robotics that could easily be transitioned to Three Laws of Artificial Intelligence. Law Zero states that robots (and AI) must not injure humanity or stand idly by while humans are being harmed. Law One declares robots (and AI) must not harm human beings, unless doing so would contradict a higher law. Law Two states that robots must obey orders given to them by human beings, unless doing so would violate a higher law. Finally, Law Three acknowledges that a robot may protect itself, as long as doing so does not conflict with a higher law. Asimov’s ideas provide a solid foundation for holding AI accountable. It sets clear parameters that AI engineers should abide by. But, what if a machine still ends up injuring a human? What type of punishment would be accurate and provide the victim with a feeling that justice has been done (especially given the fact that we are a society that craves accountability)? If we consider AI to be alive, do we put it do death by disabling the machine? Can we put a machine on trial? Does it get to have a lawyer? If we say yes to this, what do these actions say about our own humanity? Is this a human way to treat a “living” non-living creation?

            Before deciding whether it is morally appropriate to pursue the creation of Artificial Intelligence in the face of all these issues, we must first identify what values human beings hold that are relevant to this topic, and if these actions would be advancing or contradicting those values. First, human beings need to see themselves reflected in their world. We spend countless money on archeological and anthropological research to unearth our past in order to establish where we have come from and figure out where we are going. Second, we need to have the chance to advance ourselves and further our way of life. This is what keeps us driving towards new technologies and increased efficiencies in our daily lives. Third, we need to be stimulated. Science has proven that children that lack this crucial component grow up with serious developmental difficulties.  Fourth we need to have validations for who we are, which is why we seek out awards and recognition from our peers. Fifth, we need to feel unique, special and irreplaceable. This truth resonates in the sense of pride and internal uplift we feel when we do something that sets us apart from our peers. Sixth, we need to be able to trust those around us who make our decisions, and believe that there will be justice when someone harms us. Whether they are our elected officials, police officers, a jury of our peers or the doctor who is treating us, we seek out those that we feel will advance our best interests and take care of our needs.

            In light of these values, ethical egoists would insist that the progression of AI is moral regardless of the social, philosophical or ethical implications of these actions. This group would be able to say with a clear conscience that we should be allowed to develop AI without restriction, no matter who or what was injured in the process, or could be injured after the fact. In the Utilitarian viewpoint, it can be argued that it is in the best interests of the majority society to advance AI for human benefit. This means using it freely in toys, cars and home appliances, making it widely accessible to the general public. It can also mean designing AI that can take over jobs that are boring or non-stimulating to human workers.  Of course, the majority of society also values being employed in order to feed their families. Allowing AI to fill these job opportunities could cause the unemployment rate to increase more than it already has, hurting society. This goes against Utilitarian law. It can also be argued that the majority of society would be happiest if there were no glitches during a surgery or a medical diagnosis. This error could jeopardize their lives. Furthermore, Utilitarian thought says that what is best for the majority is most ethical option. But what happens when the majorities are AI? Do we take the needs and interests of human-like machines into consideration over that of actual human beings? And, do ethical theories of man apply to machines, or do we need to develop a new set of theories?

            In Kant’s theory of Categorical Imperative, the ethical choice is the one that advances the interests of society, and prevents anyone from being used as a means to an end. On one hand, we must ask if it is in the best interests of society to declare that a machine can be intelligent and equal to a human being? Human beings have an inherent need to feel special and unique. If a machine is able to accomplish the same things in seconds that we have taken hundreds of years to do, this could have serious and damning implications for our human psyche. Human beings also have a need to be protected. By creating machines that have the potential to overpower and outsmart us, we are essentially endangering society for the sake of satisfying our hubris. Alternatively, if AI has human-like standing and superhuman intelligence, is it treating AI as a means to an end to use the machines for our manual labor and efficiency, but never give them rights equal to our own? Are we opening the door to another period of slavery in our history?

            In the Rawlsian point of view, the action that maximizes liberty and minimizes inequality is deemed the most ethical. Human beings are (usually) considered equal in the eyes of the law. We are all born with the same basic parts, though some are able to develop their various abilities, including intelligence, more than others. If AI is capable of thinking, then in the eyes of this theory, it should be given the same rights that other thinking beings (namely humans) have. We must also consider that AI can be used to improve the quality of life for individuals. For example, the development of AI limb prosthetics can advance the opportunities of and establish equality for people with disabilities. That means it is abiding by the Rawlsian principles.

Moreover, is it fair to make some workers stand in horrible conditions for long hours doing dirty work that is potentially dangerous or damaging to their health? If a machine can do the same thing without any humans getting hurt, then is it ethical to prevent this machine from being used? Machines can alleviate this job environment inequality. Added benefits are that AI is able to work 24 hours a day, increasing productivity and lowering costs. Unfortunately, as noted above, replacing human workers with machines could seriously increase unemployment. Would that really be in everyone’s best interests? If we do create capable and human-like AI, would it allow bosses to leverage the threat of AI implementation when their underpaid human workers demand to be paid fairly? There is also the question of whether it is reasonable to compare the work of a superhuman computer to that of humans applicable for the same job. If AI is programmed with a superhuman ability and considered living how is a regular human being supposed to compete? There is a very likely possibility that AI will limit the opportunities for real working class citizens, something that goes against our very ideals of democracy and creates serious inequality, a violation of Rawl’s theory.

            Based on the ethical principles, it can be argued that it is morally suitable to both promote and prevent the advancement of AI. This means we must fully gauge the interests of society when making this decision to fashion human-like computers. First, there is the plain fact that the majority of human beings have a very hard time adjusting to the concept that a computer could think for itself. In Cosciousness: An Afterthought , Steven Harnad accurately points out that there is a, “conceptual and intuitive difficulty we have in equating the subjective phenomenology of conscious experience with the workings of a physical device.” The very notion of AI is something that many believe Hollywood has cooked up. Off screen they do not think this is not something that could ever really exist.

Regardless of this denial, there is the very real truth that AI does exist, whether we are ready to realize it or not. Human beings do not fully understand their own nature, so how can we possibly say that a machine is not like us, or that it does not have a mind? Even though the majority of society may not be ready to accept this idea yet, this does not mean these machines are not “thinking” and providing services for human beings that are critical in nature. For example, Liberty Island is outfitted with “smart” cameras that can identify an abandoned backpack, or recognize a non-approved vessel approaching it, then alert the system of the potential threat. In Japan, therapy robots have provided countless medical help to patients. Yuri Kageyama has discovered that human beings have actually become attached to these machines just as they would another human being. Of course, though this does appear to help these individuals in the short term, should we allow a device to replace real human companionship? In the long run, does it really serve a patient to become so close to a pre-programmed device, especially when we have no guarantee it will always act appropriately?

            The second societal factor we must acknowledge is that implementing AI will drastically change the technological and social landscape. In his article The Singularity, Vernor Vinge points out that when a machine is able to accomplish something in a matter of hours that took humans much longer to do, there are going to be major changes to society and we will not be properly prepared to deal with them. As it is, computers have developed over several decades, and yet this rate of progress outgrew the laws that should govern them. We still haven’t managed to come to a general consensus about privacy and security, accountability or morality in a Third Wave era. How can we responsibly advance AI without having solid legal and societal parameters in place to protect the population against harms that can come from these machines? If we allow our egos to think for us we could end up living out one of the robot-centered science fiction films that ends with the destruction of the human race and the very essence of humanity itself.

            Third, saying that AI can think and be alive has a direct impact on our view of our own intelligence. When someone types to well known AI developed programs like Eliza, Alice or Jabberwacky, it is only a matter of time before these machines are confused by human questions, either repeating themselves or being locked into nonsensical speech patterns.  The reason for this is that computer programs can only ever be as intelligent as programmers can make them. They are not always going to know how to respond because they can only comprehend as far as their pre-programmed knowledge base goes. Can we really say, at this point, that these machines are thinking and being intelligent? And, if we do say that they are in possession of real aptitude, then doesn’t that mean that we have taken away our own unique nature and limited our mental ability to a rudimentary set of programming code?

What about the crucial component of emotional intelligence? It is that aspect of ourselves that makes us human. We are not merely technical problem solvers; we have emotional function that guides us through our lives and choices. We are born human but we develop our sense of humanity through our experiences over the course of a lifetime. AI is born in a laboratory. What kind of life experience does it have that gives it the credibility to make choices for a real human being? I don’t think it has any. There is also the question of whether we should we feel inferior to AI if it is smarter than we are. My answer to that is that we are the ones that created it. True, we may not process a program as fast as the machine does, but we developed the technology that could!

            In conclusion, despite the arguments for and against its progression, perhaps Theodore Kaczynski said it best when he stated that we are becoming so dependant on machines that we may eventually have no choice but to accept their decisions. Machines control us. They tell us how to do basic things like get from point A to point B. Yes, we manage our own personal machines, like the cars we drive and the alarm clocks we program, but there exists a very small elite which retains control over the major systems in our lives. What happens if this group decides to use their AI to eliminate an entire segment of the population, or the whole population itself? We are at their mercy and yet most of us don’t even realize it. We must set parameters and ethical guidelines for the creation of Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps Steven Parnad has the right idea when he suggests reformatting the Turing Test to establish a Total Turing Test that measures all aspects of the mechanical brain including the development of self-awareness and consciousness towards others. We can decide then whether a machine should have responsibility. It is truth that, whether we like it or not, machines are getting “smarter.” The focus now should be on responsible development that allows for the advancement of efficiencies that improve the quality of life for as many people as possible, while simultaneously protecting the extended interests of international human civilization.


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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents