At A Glance – Machine Ethics

How can we make sure that intelligent technology benefits humanity?

Machine ethics is concerned with the moral behaviour of artificially intelligent entities. It should not be confused with computer ethics, which refers to the behaviour of humans towards computer systems. Machine ethics provides the fundamental framework that should underpin the development of intelligent technology, ensuring that it works to complement rather than challenge humanity. As neural networks and machine learning systems gain more autonomy, developing ethical machines has become a key concern.

Instead of focusing on principles for use, machine ethics advocates a different way of thinking about technology. Much the same as a child or an animal, intelligent systems must be taught through positive examples, and have appropriate behaviours reinforced. EthicsNet, for example, aims to do this by applying a dataset of morally commendable examples with which to train AI.

The implications of machine ethics include fairer and more equitable business structures, and intelligent technologies that conform to moral guidelines and can therefore function in society. In the words of technology philosopher and EthicsNet co-founder Nell Watson, machine ethics will ‘give a bit of heart and soul’ to all kinds of business systems.

“With machine ethics, we can begin to interpret the things that are truly valuable to people to provide them with experiences that are beneficial and transformative.”

The challenge, of course, will be finding a middle ground between what different groups of people consider to be ‘ethical’.

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