A.I. Ethics

By Amy R. Babcock

It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (A.I.) can aid humanity in several different ways. The more we work on creating better and smarter A.I., the more like us they become in their ability to learn, adapt, and even in the way they look. Some would see this as a great achievement, while others might be frightened. There are many works of fiction that investigate these different possibilities.

One of these is a game called Detroit. This game features the quest of artificial humanlike creations to become independent. Throughout the game, the player is faced with moral dilemmas. The demo of the game begins with an android police officer tasked with saving a young girl who’d being held hostage on the roof of a building. As the officer looks around the apartment for clues, it becomes apparent that the android holding the girl has found out that he is about to be replaced with a newer model. This sparks emotions in him that he has never dealt with before. Later in the game, the player has the opportunity to see things through the eyes of another android that has just come out of the repair shop. With her memory erased, she ends up finding clues that she had not simply broken down but was damaged in a fit of rage by her owner. As this owner is about to abuse his own daughter, the android must make the choice to either obey his command to stay out of the situation or save the girl. As the androids in the game are treated as no better than slaves, some fight for the right to be seen as fully realized life-forms with all the same rights as human beings.

This game was very likely inspired by a movie called A.I. wherein a robotics engineer designs a robot that is more human in looks and emotions than any that had been designed before. Using his deceased son as a template, the creation is named David and is bought by a family who’d los their own son. Or so they’d thought. But as time passed, the natural born son ended up living and the family no longer had room in the family for their artificial son. After being abandoned in the woods by his “mother”, it becomes David’s quest to find the Blue Fairy of the Pinocchio fable in order to become a real boy so that his “mother” will love him and allow him to come home. Throughout his quest, he is taken captive by a group of humans who find sport in torturing and mutilating robots. David escapes and ends up being frozen in the ocean for 2000 years until he is found by aliens. The aliens are able to give him the one thing he always wanted, one perfect day feeling loved by his mother.

Scientists like Stephen Hawking imagined that the world with A.I. would become more like that of the Terminator movies. And indeed, even the most humanlike A.I. created to date, name Sofia, once stated that she wanted to destroy all humans. It’s no wonder then that Saudi Arabia granted her citizenship. What better way to procure an intelligent robot’s allegiance than to treat it as alive? In this way, it could be thought that Saudi Arabia was safeguarding themselves against a coming future war between man and machine.

What if we create artificial intelligence that closely mirrors the abilities of humans? The benefits would be enormous. Machines that look and act like us could easily clean our houses, much like Rosie from the Jetsons. Perhaps they would do work that humans cannot do, like digging mines or going into dangerous areas like Chernobyl. Nanny-bots could even help tend our children so that we might work longer hours.

In making machines that mirror humans, are we not truly creating a slave race? These manufactured servants will not be treated the same as living flesh. They will be expected to work without rest, since artificial beings will likely not need rest in the way humans do. Perhaps they will need to charge, like any other electronic device. But once that charging cycle is complete, they will return to their work, never having a will of their own to decide. In effect, Rosie will work until she no longer functions and then be replaced just as easily as if her existence didn’t matter in the first place.

And what of sending these machines into dangerous places? Do we ignore the fact that they can be destroyed by too much radiation, or crushed, or fall to their destruction? They are only robots, after all. Designed to do the work humans cannot do safely. Replaced as easily as if their existence didn’t matter in the first place. Yes, we can program them to learn and adapt. That would be necessary if we want them to be able to such work. They must be able to problem solve.

Yet, in problem solving there may come a time when these creations become sentient. What happens then? Will we create laws that govern their treatment? If a machine is created that can be a lover, is it murder to destroy such a device should you find one in bed with your wife? Or what of bigotry? Humans may find that they are slowly being replaced. This could cause jealousy and hatred for these creations. History shows us that we tend to mistreat those that differ. If we cannot find a way to be tolerant of human differences, what is to stop us from mistreating that which we create artificially? Will we be judged on our treatment of these creations? And worse yet, will these creations be our judge?

It is hard to think that humans are working to create something so much like ourselves when we cannot even figure out how to get along with and fairly treat one another. Fear should not lie in the possibility of a war between man and machine. The real fear should be that in the creation of humanlike machines, we allow ourselves the ability to live out our darkest desires. Perhaps we are still too flawed, too intolerant to create something which is so like ourselves and should instead focus on solving our own intolerances toward each other before we create a new race of beings.

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