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Machine Ethics
Jamais Cascio   Apr 9, 2009   Fast Company  

The conclusion of the “Battlestar Galactica” television series a couple of weeks ago left viewers with a decidedly mixed message: a superficial gloss of “ooh, the scary robots are coming!”, coupled with a more subtle—and, for me, more important—story about the implications of how we treat that which we create.

You don’t have to be a science fiction aficionado to appreciate the importance of the latter narrative. All you need to do is look at this past week’s headlines: “ADAM,” a robot scientist, making discoveries about genetics; “CB2” (“Child robot with Biomimetic Body”) learning to recognize facial expressions and developing social skills; and battlefield robots taking on an increasingly critical role in American military operations. Autonomous and semi-autonomous systems are becoming extraordinarily complex, and our relationship with them differs significantly from how we use other technologies. How we think about them needs to catch up with that.

We’ve all heard of Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” a fictional set of ethical guidelines for intelligent machines; what I want to see is a set of guidelines aimed at the people who design those machines. I spoke recently to a group of technologists in the San Francisco Bay Area, and proposed my own “Five Laws of Robotics.” These should be considered a draft, not a final statement, but I found in that gathering that they provoked useful debate.

Read more about Cascio’s Five Machine Morals here:

Law #1: Creation Has Consequences
Law #2: Politics Matters
Law #3: It’s Your Fault
Law #4: No Such Thing as a Happy Slave
Law #5: Don’t Kick the Robot

Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.

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