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Compassionate AI and Selfless Robots: A Buddhist Approach

Buddhist psychology and metaphysics focus on the emergence of selves, their drives, and their potential for developing wisdom and compassion. Buddhism has already entered into a wide ranging dialogue with cognitive science, and can also inform and be informed by efforts to create self-aware machine minds. Buddhism suggests that there are a number of prerequisites for the development of humanlike intelligence in machines. These include embodiment, sensory interaction with the environment, preferences and aversions. The Buddhist view of the advantages of different kinds of minds and embodiments suggests an ethical obligation not to create machine minds which are trapped in particular emotional states or cognitive loops. Rather machine minds should be created with the capacity to dynamically evolve in compassion and wisdom. Compassion must start with empathetic feelings and a theory of mind, but for Buddhism also requires cultivation of equanimity and ethical wisdom. Buddhism suggests the developmental cultivation of ethics from rule-based to virtue-oriented to utilitarian. Finally thoughts are offered on what enlightenment might mean for a machine mind.

Read a draft of this essay here.

The final version was published in Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics edited by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, and George A. Bekey (2011) MIT Press.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)

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