Robot Morality

Colin Allen spoke about Robot morality at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

This relates to The Ethics of Autonomous Robots.

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Fatalist Activism in America… and now the UK

My favourite Fatalist joke goes like this:

Two farmers in conversation.
‘What would you do if you won a million dollars?”
“I’d just keep on farming until it ran out.”

Despite the fact that this joke comes from America and was once quoted in the Senate, the US is not the first place one thinks of when considering fatalism. The national image is of the rugged individualist, forging their way towards an unlimited future. Lady Liberty, not Lady Luck is the national emblem. Yes we can! is a recent version of a very well established national stereotype (even though it was stolen from south of the border – Si se puede!). Given that individualism is so well established, is it hard for Americans to think of any real alternative? That they can think of another ideal, is how they manage to have two political parties, how they have two political viewpoints, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. But there are more than two ways of organising. Grid-group cultural theory argues that we ignore these at our peril. What we ignore won’t go away, it just comes back to bite us. Continue reading “Fatalist Activism in America… and now the UK”

I’ll have four of everything

So many four-fold conceptual schemes, so little time… The following three appear arbitary, contrived, as though arranging a subject matter in groups of four was in itself clever (and just to complete my own set of four, here’s one I wrote about earlier).

Manuel Castells’ (2001) four cultures of the internet:

* Academics
* Open source advocates
* Social communities
* Entrepreneurs

Also Dennis Mumby’s four kinds of discourse, producing narratives of:

* Representation (positivist modernism)
* Understanding (interpretive modernism)
* Suspicion (critical modernism)
* Vulnerability (postmodernism)

And the ‘four cultures of the West’ described by church historian John O’Malley (2004):

* prophetic
* academic
* humanistic
* artistic

Perhaps it’s just that five would be too many and three too few.

References
Manuel Castells (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Dennis K Mumby (1997). Modernism, postmodernism, and communication studies: A rereading of an ongoing
debate. Communication Theory, 7, 1–28.

John W. O’Malley 2004 The Four Cultures of the West. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Now read: Mapping Four-fold conceptual schemes

Two kinds of tales, one true and one false

More on truth and lies:

‘There are two kinds of tales, one true and one false,’ Socrates claims in Plato’s Republic (trans A.D. Lindsay, 1935, London: Dent, p. 376).

‘The depth of consciousness created by the exercise of the arts of deception is the first arena for the practice of that dissimulation proper to the life of human intelligence. The same spirit permeates other expositions, for instance that of Karl Popper, who equates the capacity to lie with the capacity to imagine: the power to imagine other things, to negate, and thereby to create fiction, even hypothesis – and thence to create science’. (John Forrester 1997 Truth Games: Lies, Money, and Psychoanalysis, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 9)

What, according to Nietszche, the Greeks admired in Odysseus;

‘his capacity for lying, and for cunning, his ability to be, when need be, whatever he chose’ (Frederich Nietzsche 1974 The Gay Science, trans Walter Kaufman, New York: Random House, p. 156).

These quotations are to be found in :

Linda Neil (2009) Beautiful lies my father told me. TEXT Special Issue No 5 The Art of the Real April

Now read: Truth and Lies

The Ethics of Autonomous robots

Further to a recent post about the ethics of autonomous robots, it seems military robots are not the only kind that can kill, allbeit by ‘mistake’. In Japan there are already robots that feed the elderly and baby-sitting robots in shopping centres. So who exactly should be held responsible when they go wrong? It’s an issue that has concerned Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University for a while (he and Ronald Arkin were interviewed for the radio recently), and now the Royal Academy of Engineering has weighed in with a discussion report.

Autonomous Systems: Social, Legal & Ethical Issues, commissioned by the Academy’s Engineering Ethics Working Group, is online at http://www.raeng.org.uk/autonomoussystems

It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t begin to ask the kind of questions grid-group cultural theory might…. Continue reading “The Ethics of Autonomous robots”

Beware – Dangerous Robots!

Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project has been thinking about the possible ways of reacting to robots that kill. It’s a relatively new set of technologies, but what happens when AI merges with weaponry to produce robots that want to kill you? He thinks the arguments could go in several ways and I tend to agree.

The ethics of this is already being worked out, with the aim of making robots behave ‘more humanely than humans’. There is a summary.

The title of a key book on the subject points to the potential contradictions:

Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots

Governance is great – as long as we’re the ones in charge

The context in which all this is happening is an Hierarchical one: the so called military-industrial complex. Hence the great significance of the term ‘Governing’. For Hierarchy, governing is exactly the correct response to ‘lethal behavior’ – and this applies to all lethal behaviour, not just that of robots, who in a sense are nothing special. The point is, in the Hierarchical worldview violence is warranted, provided it is clear who is doing the warranting. But lethal robots present something of a problem. What happens if they aren’t programmed to be ‘governed’? Continue reading “Beware – Dangerous Robots!”

How do we know what we think we know? (part 2)

How do we know the tide won’t wash the beach away?

A couple of years ago a local newspaper reported a certain beach-front resident claiming  “It’s ridiculous to think this beach would ever get washed away by a king tide. I’ve lived here four months and it’s just never happened.” This is an example of an heuristic in operation. The particular heuristic the resident used was this: anything that hasn’t happened within the last four months will never happen. Clearly, it’s a deficient way of thinking (parts of the beach have in fact been washed away), but might there be heuristics that, though not infallible, are useful?

This post follows on from one a while back about how we know what we think we know about ‘how things really are.’ I’m seeking to develop a way of characterising grid-group cultural theory as a set of four ecologically efficient social learning heuristics.

Given that we don’t actually know how stable the beach is, or indeed anything much about how things really are:

We use heuristics… Continue reading “How do we know what we think we know? (part 2)”

Truth and Lies

Research such as this, exposing just how much we lie, surely calls into question Jurgen Habermas’s idea that speech is fundamentally oriented towards truth- telling.

Habermas seems to claim that truth precedes falsehood in the sense that lying can only take place against a background assumption of truth. In other words, we only lie with the intention of persuading the hearer we are telling the truth.

But isn’t the inverse possible too, that truth-telling can only take place against a background assumption of fiction? Surely we are aware that of the many, many things that language enables us to say, only a small subset of them is actually true? For this reason I think the ideal speech act is not the truth but the story.

It seems much more likely that the truth is no more than a subset of all the things it is possible to say. Language is no more concerned with ethics than art is (that is, it can be, but doesn’t have to be). In my opinion the ideal speech act is fiction.

Reference

Robert Feldman 2009 The Liar In Your Life: How Lies Work And What They Tell Us About Ourselves, London: Virgin Books.

Read more: Australian bushfires as a ‘Truth event’

Can Education reform cope with competing visions of fairness?

There has been some discussion recently about social mobility and parental school choice. This arose, in part, from a UK report on how to improve ‘fair access to the professions’.

The problem with almost all such reports and many such debates is that they assume we all agree on what counts as ‘fair’, that we know what ‘equal’ means. Furthermore, the very term ‘social mobility’ assumes we agree already about the nature of the social sphere, within which we move or stay put. Pointedly, we don’t agree. In reality, these words are the battleground of an ongoing cultural argument, which is illuminated, as I will show, by means of grid-group cultural theory. Continue reading “Can Education reform cope with competing visions of fairness?”

Why aren’t we all Egalitarians?

It appears there are not as many Egalitarians in the UK as New Labour might like to think.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commissioned by the Fabian Society, seems to show that people in England aren’t particularly keen on equality. They think high income earners deserve their level of wealth, and conversely, low income earners also deserve theirs. High pay is seen as the result of hard work and talent and high income earners are seen as making an economic contribution to the nation. People ‘underestimate the number of rich tax cheats’ and ‘exaggerate the number of benefit cheats’ (Ashley, 2009: 27). Only 22% are traditional egalitarians. In what sense is this a problem? Continue reading “Why aren’t we all Egalitarians?”