Articles  |  ,   |  March 29, 2016

Using “The Machine Stops” for Teaching Ethics in AI and Computer Science

Article by Emanuelle Burton, Judy Goldsmith and Nicholas Mattei.
Proceedings of the 2016 AAAI Workshop on Ethics and AI.


A key front for ethical questions in artificial intelligence, and computer science more generally, is teaching students how to engage with the questions they will face in their professional careers based on the tools and technologies we teach them. In past work (and current teaching) we have advocated for the use of science fiction as an appropriate tool which enables AI researchers to engage students and the public on the current state and potential impacts of AI. We present teaching suggestions for E.M. Forster’s 1909 story, “The Machine Stops,” to teach topics in computer ethics. In particular, we use the story to examine ethical issues related to being constantly available for remote contact, physically isolated, and dependent on a machine — all without mentioning computer games or other media to which students have strong emotional associations. We give a high-level view of common ethical theories and indicate how they inform the questions raised by the story and afford a structure for thinking about how to address them . . .