Friday, June 18, 2010

Guest Opinion: Machines and Machination - How Human Can Machines Be?

We are posting this submitted blog and invite others to offer differing opinions. Guest bloggers are not required to have an in-depth understanding of the field of inquiry covered by the Moral Machines blog.

The first thing that struck me when I visited this blog for the first time was the title – if ever there was a delicious yet appropriate oxymoron, this is it. Since when did machines and morality go hand in hand? Whenever we talk of technology and its intrusiveness in all aspects of our lives, we hold back from going gaga over the machines because they lack ethical values and intuitive sense. In a nutshell, they lack innate qualities of humanness like the ability to discern right from wrong based on ethics, kindness, morals, and a host of other factors that must be taken into consideration.

Take for example a court of law – if a person is on trial for murder, they are not automatically sentenced to the death penalty or life imprisonment. The circumstances under which the murder was committed are taken into consideration – some people do it in cold blood after planning it out carefully; others are psychopaths who take pleasure in the acts of torture and killing; and yet others are victims of circumstances and are provoked into killing either to defend themselves or because they are so incensed that they don’t realize what they are doing until it’s too late.

A machine could probably pronounce the right verdict if you feed in the circumstances and the associated punishments, but what if there are extenuating circumstances? What if the murder was planned, but only because the culprit was so badly affected by the victim that he saw no other way but to eliminate him from this world? What if he was avenging the brutal rape and murder of his wife and young daughters? How would a machine judge him in such a case? Being a machine, it would not be able to accord enough importance to the anguish and mental agony of the murderer who himself is actually the main victim here? Even human beings find it hard to make the right decision in such cases. So how on earth can a machine that is made of fiber and circuits have enough moral fiber to do right in such a tough call?

There’s no doubting the fact that the march of the technological brigade is on at full speed and in full swing; but as regards the implication that they can replace humanity at any time in the future, there is much doubt and confusion as to what we can create and what those creations can do. Yes, they will be more efficient and dependable in a workhorse kind of way, but unless they are provided with human guidance and augmentation when situations call for ethical and moral decisions, machines will be more detrimental than advantageous to society.

By-line:
This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of Rad Tech Schools. She invites your questions, comments at her email address: susan.white33@gmail.com.

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