The Future of Moral Machines

The prospect of machines capable of following moral principles, let alone understanding them, seems as remote today as the word “robot” is old. Some technologists enthusiastically extrapolate from the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months to predict an imminent “technological singularity” in which a threshold for machines of superhuman intelligence will be suddenly surpassed. Many Singularitarians assume a lot, not the least of which is that intelligence is fundamentally a computational process. The techno-optimists among them also believe that such machines will be essentially friendly to human beings. I am skeptical about the Singularity, and even if “artificial intelligence” is not an oxymoron, “friendly A.I.” will require considerable scientific progress on a number of fronts.

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Whole-Body Apoptosis and the Meanings of Lives

When, if ever, should we intentionally shorten our lives? Programming our own deaths is not a subject many people seem to have thought much about. But think about it we must. For biotechnologies continue to advance, our psychological identities continue to depend on our being embodied, and more and more of us spend our last days in debilitated confused states. Were we to find a means of safely and effectively cutting short the suffering and frustration of older and older age, wouldn’t it be unethical not to use it?

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One Man’s Meat: Further Thoughts on the Evolution of Animal Food Taboos

Although meat is said to be the most highly prized category of food in the majority of human cultures, it is also, according to a recent ethnographic survey, “vastly more likely to be the target of food taboos,” than any other type of edible substance.[1] People throughout the world display strong aversions to killing and

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Challenges for a Humanoid Robot

The Star Wars character C3PO is so convincingly depicted that we may have to remind ourselves that there was no real robot behind the elegant mannequin. The passage of time has not remedied this deficiency; nor, alas, have I a blueprint to offer. I do believe, however, that it will repay us to identify some attributes a robot would need in order to count as humanoid. By clearly distinguishing among such features, and considering what our attitudes toward such a device might be, we can enrich our understanding of what it is to be human.

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Enhancing Moral Status?

The trajectory of the development of emerging enhancement technologies suggests that it is not premature to begin considering ethical issues associated with robust human enhancement—i.e. creation of people with highly augmented or highly novel capacities through technological modification of (or integration with) their biological systems. Robust human enhancement raises justice, equity and access issues; parental rights and child welfare issues; naturalness and species boundary issues; individual and social benefit and risk issues; personal choice and liberty issues; and public policy issues related to regulation and research funding.

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The Political Economy of Personhood

To speak in the same breath of personhood and political economy sounds odd because of the seemingly obvious radical difference between the two worlds of their application. On the one hand, a straightforward moral term from everyday life referring to the status of our fellow humans; on the other hand, a technical theory with roots in 18th-century French and British philosophical thought about the interrelation between economic production, society, and the state. What could these two possibly have to do with each other?

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Do People Actually Believe in Objective Moral Truths?

Imagine two people discussing a question in mathematics. One of them says “7,497 is a prime number,” while the other says, “7,497 is not a prime number.” In a case like this one, we would probably conclude that there is a single right answer and that anyone who says otherwise must be mistaken. The question

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The Meat Eaters

Would the controlled extinction of carnivorous species be a good thing?

Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their

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Hunting and Science

The use of hounds in hunting excites great passions. Hunting deer is particularly hated by those who are opposed to it and ardently loved by those who support it. If you wept as a child at the death of Bambi’s mother, you know what it is like to be hunted. On the other side, the

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