Kantian Ethics in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Ozlem Ulgen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Artificial intelligence and robotics is pervasive in daily life and set to expand to new levels potentially replacing human decision-making and action. Self-driving cars, home and healthcare robots, and autonomous weapons are some examples. A distinction appears to be emerging between potentially benevolent civilian uses of the technology (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles delivering medicines), and potentially malevolent military uses (e.g. lethal autonomous weapons killing human combatants). Machine-mediated human interaction challenges the philosophical basis of human existence and ethical conduct. Aside from technical challenges of ensuring ethical conduct in artificial intelligence and robotics, there are moral questions about the desirability of replacing human functions and the human mind with such technology. How will artificial intelligence and robotics engage in moral reasoning in order to act ethically? Is there a need for a new set of moral rules? What happens to human interaction when it is mediated by technology? Should such technology be used to end human life? Who bears responsibility for wrongdoing or harmful conduct by artificial intelligence and robotics? Whilst Kant may be familiar to international lawyers for setting restraints on the use of force and rules for perpetual peace, his foundational work on ethics provides an inclusive moral philosophy for assessing ethical conduct of individuals and states and, thus, is relevant to discussions on the use and development of artificial intelligence and robotics. His philosophy is inclusive because it incorporates justifications for morals and legitimate responses to immoral conduct, and applies to all human agents irrespective of whether they are wrongdoers, unlawful combatants, or unjust enemies. Humans are at the centre of rational thinking, action, and norm-creation so that the rationale for restraints on methods and means of warfare, for example, is based on preserving human dignity as well as ensuring conditions for perpetual peace among states. Unlike utilitarian arguments which favour use of autonomous weapons on the basis of cost-benefit reasoning or the potential to save lives, Kantian ethics establish non-consequentialist and deontological rules which are good in themselves to follow and not dependent on expediency or achieving a greater public good. Kantian ethics make two distinct contributions to the debate. First, they provide a human-centric ethical framework whereby human existence and capacity are at the centre of a norm-creating moral philosophy guiding our understanding of moral conduct. Second, the ultimate aim of Kantian ethics is practical philosophy that is relevant and applicable to achieving moral conduct. I will seek to address the moral questions outlined above by exploring how core elements of Kantian ethics relate to use of artificial intelligence and robotics in the civilian and military spheres. Section 2 sets out and examines core elements of Kantian ethics: the categorical imperative; autonomy of the will; rational beings and rational thinking capacity; and human dignity and humanity as an end in itself. Sections 3-7 consider how these core elements apply to artificial intelligence and robotics with discussion of fully autonomous and human-machine rule-generating approaches; types of moral reasoning; the difference between ?human will? and ?machine will?; and respecting human dignity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)59-83
    Number of pages25
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 31 Oct 2017


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