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The Ethics Of Artificial Life Essay

1926 words - 8 pages

At the end of the last Millennium a group of academics and experts in artificial intelligence postulated fourteen outstanding questions and problems that they believed would need to be solved as the development of artificial life progressed. The fourteenth and final problem posited by this panel was to “establish ethical principles for artificial life” in four main regards: “the sanctity of the biosphere, the sanctity of human life, the responsible treatment of newly generated life forms and the risks of exploitations of artificial life.”(Bedau 374)
As technological and scientific research continues to advance towards both understanding and eventually developing artificial life, the ethical issues that surround the development of new and novel forms of life often seem to be an afterthought; a consequence we will deal with as the actual issues arise. This is not to say that the ethics are not thought of at all, or that waiting to approach these issues when they are less hypothetical is entirely foolhardy, but instead that there is much left to consider as our synthesized and artificial creations approach the fuzzy boundaries of what is considered alive. Bedau et al.’s haphazard placement of all ethical issues under one umbrella problem, and subsequent placement as the last problem on the list is a good illustration of ethics normal place in the discussion of artificial life. This may be because thinkers are currently more focused on the question of “can we make life?” than on “what happens if we make life?” or it may be because technology researchers would prefer to rush forward with a youthful glee, not thinking of the consequences of their actions. But no matter the reason, the ethics of artificial life must be continually discussed, continually shaped and continually refined as both our technological capabilities advance and our societal norms and standards shift and change.
While it is easy to declare the necessity of ethics for artificial life, it is near impossible to truly catalog the progress of such a long and challenging process. How could we possibly hope to reach a consensus on the ethics of artificial life, when we, as a society, have yet to come fully to a consensus on human ethics and on what constitutes a life? The answer to such a question is, inevitably, that we cannot possibly reach such a consensus, but that we must strive forward in the face of this impossibility, slowly shaping and sharpening our ideas; ever attempting to find a perfect solution to the problem. And so it is that, until artificial life does arise, we are stuck attempting to clumsily translate human ethics, devised over thousands of years, onto the brave new reality of life made by the hands of man. As such, it will prove more prudent to examine how human ethics and philosophy might be applied to each of the four subsections posited by Bedau et al.’s fourteenth problem, than to attempt to summarize decades of academic discussion and disagreement by the many...

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