Ryan Jenkins & Keith Abney: Robot Ethics 2.0

Autonomous vehicles are programmed whenever a human is on the road to stop or swerve...Already we have reports of where the Google car (the Waymo car, I guess I should say now), people have already figured this out and are beginning to play chicken with it...All of these unintended consequences have to be taken into account.
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Ryan Jenkins and Keith Abney discuss their book Robot Ethics 2.0: From Autonomous Cars to Artificial Intelligence (co-edited with Patrick Lin) with Chris Richardson. Jenkins is an assistant professor of philosophy and a senior fellow at the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He studies the ethics of emerging technologies, especially automation, cyber war, autonomous weapons, and driverless cars. His work has appeared in journals such as Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, and the Journal of Military Ethics, as well as public fora including the Washington Post, Slate and Forbes.


Abney is senior lecturer in the Philosophy Department and a fellow of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and teaches courses including Robot Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, and many more. He is well published on the ethics of emerging technologies—including robotics, space exploration and colonization, existential risk, cybersecurity, AI, human enhancements, bioethics, and more—including their national security implications. He has also participated in organizations such as the Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations and National Security (CETMONS) and hospital bioethics committees.


“I divide my time studying the philosophy of technology into two periods: before I read Langdon Winner’s ‘Do artifacts have politics?’ and after. It was a revelation to go beyond applied ethical questions of whether it's permissible to use certain technologies and how, and to think instead about how technologies can shape and influence their periphery. Some artifacts, it turns out, seem destined to bring about certain effects as they interact with other social institutions, contexts, and pressures. Often, these effects are foreseeable, and anticipating them becomes an important obligation for technology creators” (Jenkins).


“In Julie Carpenter’s contribution ‘Deus Sex Machina: Loving Robot Sex Workers and the Allure of an Insincere Kiss’, she projects possible human futures with robot sex workers (RSWs) by using attachment theory as a framework; including concrete questions about what might constitute human-robot sexual and emotionally intimate relationships. The ‘Uncanny Valley’ theory of Mori is updated to a new model,  the Robot Accommodation Process Theory (RAPT)” (Abney).


“This book, as relevant today as it was in 1985 when it was published, is a compelling defense of the idea that different media technologies shape the way we see the world. That's because the technological nature of the medium exerts a pressure on the content it carries. Postman says, for example, that you cannot do philosophy with smoke signals: the medium is simply not fit for it. Nor is it any mystery why you never see people stopping to think on television: it does not play well. Each communications medium has a technological bias, and when these media become the dominant media in society, they shape our public conversations—often in ways that are infantilizing and corrosive” (Jenkins).


“Alasdair MacIntyre’s article ‘Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science’ discusses Hume’s Disease, Kafka’s theory of knowledge, and why Hamlet is a case study for resolving epistemological crisis and solving problems with Kuhn’s philosophy of science” (Abney).


“Crawford articulates an argument I have long waited for: namely, that the Cartesian understanding of the ego is not just grossly mistaken, but a downright damaging misconception. As psychological research has demonstrated conclusively, we are not perfectly rational creatures, capable of holding evidence, beliefs, and influences at arm's length, deliberating carefully, and making decisions whose explanations are transparent to us. Instead, we are ‘situated’ beings who are influenced in subtle and insidious ways by our surroundings, and whose decisions are often influenced by things outside of our control or understanding. Most people, I suspect, already appreciate this. But few appreciate that it imperils the moral justifications for the free market, technology design, politics, and other important American institutions. Our institutions were built on Enlightenment ideals of rationality that have ingrained themselves into the American psyche — but we maintain our allegiance to these disproven psychological fantasies to the detriment of our individual and collective lives” (Jenkins).

Kelly C. Smith (2018): "A(nother) Cosmic Wager: Pascal, METI, and the Barn Door Argument"

Kelly C. Smith (2018): "A(nother) Cosmic Wager: Pascal, METI, and the Barn Door Argument"

“Should we attempt to message extraterrestrials (METI)? Much of the debate has focused on the level of risk posed and in particular, the barn door argument (BDA) holds that aliens would already know about us and thus there is little harm that could come from messaging; but the logical problems are analogous to those with Pascal's Wager” (Abney).


“Borgmann examines the way that some artifacts invite us to engage in meaningful, social, and ‘focal’ activities. Other artifacts, meanwhile, have a tendency to recede to the periphery of our existence. We make a mistake when we think that new artifacts are simply more efficient versions of what came earlier. A stereo, for example, can produce nearly any music, nearly instantaneously, and nearly without effort. But a stereo is not just a better version of an acoustic guitar. The guitar demands focus, patience, attention, and engagement, and thus it encourages us to develop virtue and cultivate meaningful, shared experiences. The stereo provides everything, though it demands nothing from us and, as a result, is a sterile and empty furnishing” (Jenkins).


“In ‘Self-Location and Observation Selection Theory - An Advanced Introduction,’ Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence, writes about how to properly understand observational selection effects, starting with why Alf Landon didn't win the Presidency in 1936. Or, why a proper understanding of a fact, such as that you exist - or life exists on Earth - may have implications that subvert our intuitions about how (im)probable an event it was” (Abney).


“This one's just for fun. I finished reading this book recently, which interweaves two gripping stories: the incredible tale of the 1893 Chicago's Columbian Exposition (World's Fair), and the spree of America's first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, who set up shop in the outskirts of Chicago to prey on its unwitting visitors. Larson is a master, whose meticulously researched ‘novelized history’ is a joy to read, and I can't wait to devour his other books” (Jenkins).


“A discussion of existential risk and the future of humanity” (Anbey).