I am preparing for a new course this semester on philosophy and cognitive science. In the third and final part of the class, we are going to read and discuss Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen (OUP 2009). Needless to say, I am looking forward to that stretch of the course. In the meantime, reading through some of the recent work in robot ethics got me thinking about compatibilist (and semi-compatibilist) accounts of moral desert that appeal to something along the lines of Fischer and Ravizza's reasons responsive mechanisms as a way of grounding moral responsibility even in the face of determinism (and even, perhaps, in the absence of free will).
Wallach and Allen talk about machines that have the capacity to run "ethical subroutines." These subroutines are sensitive to morally salient features of various situations and circumstances--e.g., people's emotions as expressed via their facial expressions. As such, these routines could enable the robot to navigate our moral landscape by making computational decisions that are informed by moral principles--e.g., never harm humans unless harm is unavoidable, in which case, minimize harm--and that are sensitive to morally relevant features of the world. These are so-called "moral machines" (see some nice popular press stuff on related issues in robot ethics here, here, and here)--a morality which Wallach and Allen plausibly claim comes in degrees.
I have two questions for the readers:
First, are these kinds of moral machines--with their ethical subroutines--morally responsible if we adopt a reasons responsive view of agency and desert? Or would we just say that the programmer is responsible for the subroutine? If the latter, how do we define "reasons responsive mechanism" in a way that can't be boiled down computationally into something like a mechanism that runs an ethical subroutine? Second, can people point me in the direction of any recent work that addresses these sorts of issues at the intersection of machine ethics and moral agency? See below the fold for some papers that will now be on the reading list!