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


Is there anything frightening in  The Singularity Vernor Vinge, "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." ?   

Discuss what the implications are of technologies that might produce entities manufactured from inanimate materials and yet might come to display characteristics similar to or identical with features of human beings such as thought, emotions and consciousness of self.


There is an increasing number of films that portray computerized constructions in the form of human beings.  They are robots made to look as humans do.  They are called androids.  In more and more of the recent films they are taking on more and more of the behavioral characteristics of humans.   Name a movie you have seen in which such a creature exists.   Is the creation of such beings a morally correct or acceptable act?  Defend your position using ethical principles.


What does the creation of artificial intelligence teach us about our own intelligence?


If a being created by humans and given artificial intelligence arrives at a point where it claims to be conscious of itself and aware of its surroundings and history and demands basic human rights what should be the response to such a demand based on moral principles?



The following are remarks, reflections and responses to issues and questions related to this matters in this chapter.  Each offering is proceeded by the authors name and institutional affiliation.

Joseph Snellenberg, CUNY, SPS, 2007 

            In of the creation of artificial intelligence, I feel that it is a form of technology that needs to be taken with the highest amount of caution and oversight. Like computers or the Internet, A.I. has the highest potential to affect humanity’s future on a global level. However, A.I. can do more than simply revolutionize how we communicate with each other. Artificial intelligence and similar entities have the potential to revolutionize the concept of being human altogether. With A.I., humanity could be able to do things that it can only dream of currently, such as create machines that can improve personal life and society as a whole. These machines could include cybernetic police units that could assist in vehicular chases or artificially created workers that can allow factories and power plants to function at maximum capacity while minimizing on-job accidents for human workers. Overall, A.I. is a form of technology that can change so many concepts of social culture, but one that must be created with care and hesitation.

            Artificial intelligence, as a form of technology, is to me by far the most fascinating and mind-blowing form of technology that mankind has ever attempted to create. The thought of making machines capable of thinking and acting almost like a human does sound too sci-fi, but it is merely the next logical step in the growth of computing technology. While I do support the creation of A.I., I also call for hesitation in its development. Unlike computers, if something is wrong with A.I., you can’t simply issue a recall of the product or release a software patch to correct a problem. When something goes wrong with A.I., by the time the problem is found, the A.I. entity may or may not have done something criminal or immoral. And by that time, the situation may too much for any human to handle. Therefore, what I feel is needed to make sure this scenario doesn’t happen is to eliminate one factor that could instigate it: the individual(s) that place(s) personal profit and fame over safe and ethical practices.

            I do admit that this idea is rather utopian and very much a fantasy due to human nature; however, I feel that this is the only way to ensure that A.I. entities develop more like humans rather than the technology. By eliminating such greed-driven individuals, developers of A.I. can work at the pace that they feel comfortable with, rather than adhering to a deadline to improve the reputation someone who knows nothing about the technology or very little about artificial intelligence. This degree of competition and pressure is nothing new to science or society. For example, take a look at the Space Race and its progress. Both Russia and the United States competed over who would be the first to send a living being into outer space. This sometimes resulted in technological disasters ranging from failed rocket tests and damaged launch sites to the loss of trained individuals such as the Apollo 1 accident. The main motivation for this explosion of technology was nothing that would advance society immediately; it was simply the title of being the first to get into space, first to send an animal into space, and first man in space, to name a few. These three “titles” all went to Russia, frustrating the United States and forcing the country to settle for titles like “first American in space”. Eventually, the United States captured the most coveted prize of the entire Space Race by placing the first man on the Moon. Regardless of the achievements of both nations, the bottom line is that the United States and Russia were competing for something as meaningless as a title or award. It is this kind of motivation or goal that, in my opinion, will have far more of a negative impact on the growth of A.I. than space travel.

            Why do I believe that greed-driven individuals do not belong in the realm of A.I. development? I believe that the eventual goal of A.I. will be to create an entity that can act on its own and think and behave like a human. Therefore, if the scientists want to create a computer-based entity that is like a human, then they need to work in an environment where the scientists and developers can effectively create the technology safely. Greed-driven individuals would impede this progress by forcing developers to produce results when they and the rest of the world are not even physically ready for the results, let alone mentally or ethically. On top of this, the developers need to understand that they are not simply creating another laptop or the new Internet; what they are working on is something that could essentially redefine how we interpret what it means to be human. In other words, these developers will be making something entirely new and need to start from the bottom-up, like all other revolutionary technologies in the past. For example, Apple did not create the original iPod and then move onto the iPod Nano one week later; they slowly worked their way to that point, changing and shaping the iPod into the most successful portable music player. As such, I feel that A.I. should be treated not simply as a new piece of technology, but something that almost everyone will treat with the utmost care: a human being.

            Treating A.I. as a new form of human life has multiple benefits that would allow the technology to advance at a somewhat manageable rate. One such benefit is developer mentality. Basically, the developers will be thinking more like parents than simple technicians by treating A.I. as a new life rather than technology. As such, the developers will want to work at a slow and steady pace because they want their new “child” to essentially “grow up” at a pace that the developers feel is good for the A.I. entity. I say that will create a somewhat manageable rate for advancement because like all children, the A.I. entity will disagree with what its “parents” believe in, forcing the developers to attempt to understand their “child”, rather than intervene and forcibly re-write its personality to suit their means. This way, a second benefit emerges for the advancement of A.I., the development of normal human-to-A.I. interactions. By attempting to understand what their “child” likes and doesn’t like, the developers can not only help themselves grow and reach their maximum potential, they also help the A.I. entity grow and reach its maximum potential because the developers are treating the A.I. as another person rather than a piece of software or electronic medium. Finally, treating artificial intelligence as a new form of human being creates the benefit of easing the A.I. into the real world at a human-like rate rather than a technological rate. In other words, instead of thinking like they are introducing a new piece of technology and learning from how the world reacts to the technology, the developers act like they are introducing the A.I. entity to the world after teaching the entity how the world works so it has a basic understanding of the real world. As a result, the A.I. entity can take the basic knowledge about the real world and apply that knowledge and use it like a tool. For example, it could view the world like a Utilitarian would and either behave based on acts or create a set of rules for behaving ethically in the world. Because the entity had a basic set of knowledge about the world when it first was introduced, it can integrate with society and become a new member rather than something that is treated as being separate from human society, which would be the case if the entity was introduced to the world and had no knowledge of the world beforehand.

           Overall, I definitely encourage the development of artificial intelligence and similar entities for society. But, I also voice caution in this case because this is an area of technological development that must work based on how the developers feel, not on company or public demands. I feel that by working in that manner, A.I. can grow to become something that truly revolutionizes humanity and how we define it, instead of how Hollywood portrays some A.I. entities as a technological form of Frankenstein’s Monster. While my feelings and opinions about how the conduct work in this field may come off as too optimistic, I stand fast by them because I know these are the only ways that we can truly and effectively create an artificially intelligent entity that will not only become a new form of social technological improvement, but as something that can change how we as a species view the world we live in.

Jennifer Lowe, CUNY, SPS, 2007

Artificial intelligence has potential to be utilitarian and serve the greater good but it also has potential to cause harm and use humans as a means to an end.

 “CLEVER computers are everywhere. From robotic lawnmowers to intelligent lighting, washing machines and even car engines that self-diagnose faults, there's a silicon brain in just about every modern device you can think of. But can you honestly call any machine intelligent in a meaningful sense of the word?One rainy afternoon last February I decided to find out. I switched on the computer in my study, and logged on to, home to one of the leading artificial intelligences on the planet, to see what the state-of-the-art has to offer.

Intellibuddy: Hi, I'm Intellibuddy!

Nice to meet you.

JM: I'm writing an article about artificial intelligence.

Intellibuddy: Will you include me in your essay?

JM: I will if you can persuade me you really are intelligent.

Intellibuddy: Would you recommend this action to a friend?

JM: Errr...are you intelligent?

Intellibuddy: Ummm I am highly intelligent. I have many intellectual functions.

JM: What are your intellectual functions?

Intellibuddy: Thought, reason, intelligence, logic and deduction.

JM: What is your IQ?

Intellibuddy: My IQ is about 250 in human terms.

JM: Wow, you're cleverer than my editor.

Intellibuddy: I'm glad your [sic] impressed, User.

You think I am cleverer than my editor.

JM: No, cleverer than my editor.

Intellibuddy: I'm glad your impressed, User.

You think I am cleverer than my editor.

JM: No, cleverer than my editor.

Intellibuddy: I'm glad your impressed, User.

You think I am cleverer than my editor...

So much for today's artificial intelligence. Intellibuddy is a version of one of the world's most successful chatbots, called ALICE (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) and invented in 1995 by Richard Wallace, an independent researcher based in San Francisco. You can find versions of ALICE all over the web; the software is free. But whichever version you choose to chat to, the results are disappointingly similar. While some conversations have promising starts, all descend into the type of gibberish that only artificial intelligence can produce.”

In the online text there were several sites listed where we could interact with computers as above.  My results were very similar to what was shown for Intellibuddy.  General questions were answered easily.  It was when you got specific where the conversation fell apart. 

The second statement reinforces the fist one I listed.  I agree that at this point in time machines do not have the power to think independently – their responses are based on preprogrammed information.

“Many people today insist that no machine could really think. "Yes," they say, "machines can do many clever things. But all of that is based on tricks, just programs written by people to make those machines obey preconceived rules. The results are useful enough -- but nowhere in those cold machines is there any feeling, meaning, or consciousness . Those computers simply have no sense that anything is happening."

Being a realist I accept the fact that the future is unknown.  The possibility for robots created with intelligence is quite possible.  We now need to revisit our accountability module and make sure that the creators are going to be responsible for their creations. Below is a quote I found appropriate addressing this topic.

We have the technology - Bionic eyes, robot soldiers and kryptonite were once just film fantasy. But now science fiction is fast becoming fact. So how will it change our lives? By Gwyneth Jones. The Guardian (April 25, 2007). "Our gadgets are just like our children. They have the potential to be marvellous, to surpass all expectations. But children (and robots) don't grow up intelligent, affectionate, helpful and good-willed all by themselves. They need to be nurtured. The technology, however fantastic, is neutral. It's up to us to decide whether that dazzling new robot brain powers a caring hand, or a speedy fist highly accurate at throwing grenades."

Technology is going to storm ahead whether we agree with it or not.  The possibility of robots that look, think or act like humans is there – it’s up to us to decide what their end use should be.  Are they created to help and serve or are they created to cause harm and destroy?

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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