Whether we recognize it or not, we are in the midst of a robot invasion. Machines are now everywhere and doing everything. They manufacture our automobiles and other consumer products. They make decisions concerning finances and manage our retirement savings. They play match maker, connecting us to our one true love. And they effectively select the books we read, the music we hear, and the films we watch. As these artifacts increasingly come to occupy influential positions in contemporary culture, we will need to ask ourselves some rather difficult questions: At what point might a robot or algorithm be held responsible for the decisions it makes or the actions it deploys? When, in other words, would it make sense to say “It’s the computer’s fault?” Likewise, at what point might we have to seriously consider extending rights—civil, moral and legal standing—to these socially active devices? When, in other words, would it no longer be considered non-sense to suggest something like “equal rights for machines?” Although these questions are a staple in science fiction, we have already passed the tipping point. This presentation will demonstrate why it not only makes sense to speak of the vindication of the rights of machines but also why avoiding this subject could be considered immoral.
David J. Gunkel is an award winning author and teacher specializing in information technology and ethics. He holds the position of Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University and is the author of Hacking Cyberspace (Westview, 2001); Thinking Otherwise: Philosophy, Communication, Technology (Purdue University Press, 2007); and The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots and Ethics (MIT Press, 2012).
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