The New Yorker's Gary Marcus raises an interesting question: in the future, when robots will do things we used to do, and will do them better, the need for these machines to have a code of ethics will be extremely important. His example using a self-driving car explains the moral dilemma best:
Within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car, and even if you are allowed, it would be immoral of you to drive, because the risk of you hurting yourself or another person will be far greater than if you allowed a machine to do the work.
That moment will be significant not just because it will signal the end of one more human niche, but because it will signal the beginning of another: the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems. Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.
These issues may be even more pressing when it comes to military robots. When, if ever, might it be ethical to send robots in the place of soldiers? Robot soldiers might not only be faster, stronger, and more reliable than human beings, they would also be immune from panic and sleep-deprivation, and never be overcome with a desire for vengeance. Yet, as The Human Rights Watch noted in a widely-publicized report earlier this week, robot soldiers would also be utterly devoid of human compassion, and could easily wreak unprecedented devastation in the hands of a Stalin or Pol Pot. Anyone who has seen the opening scenes of RoboCop knows why we have misgivings about robots being soldiers, or cops.
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