Articles  |    |  January 27, 2021

Why machines cannot be moral

Journal Article by Robert Sparrow. Published in AI & Society.


The fact that real-world decisions made by artificial intelligences (AI) are often ethically loaded has led a number of authorities to advocate the development of “moral machines”. I argue that the project of building “ethics” “into” machines presupposes a flawed understanding of the nature of ethics. Drawing on the work of the Australian philosopher, Raimond Gaita, I argue that ethical dilemmas are problems for particular people and not (just) problems for everyone who faces a similar situation. Moreover, the force of an ethical claim depends in part on the life history of the person who is making it. For both these reasons, machines could at best be engineered to provide a shallow simulacrum of ethics, which would have limited utility in confronting the ethical and policy dilemmas associated with AI.