Why machines cannot be moral

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The fact that real-world decisions made by artificial intelligences (AI) are often ethically loaded has led a number of authorities to advocate the development of “moral machines”. I argue that the project of building “ethics” “into” machines presupposes a flawed understanding of the nature of ethics. Drawing on the work of the Australian philosopher, Raimond Gaita, I argue that ethical dilemmas are problems for particular people and not (just) problems for everyone who faces a similar situation. Moreover, the force of an ethical claim depends in part on the life history of the person who is making it. For both these reasons, machines could at best be engineered to provide a shallow simulacrum of ethics, which would have limited utility in confronting the ethical and policy dilemmas associated with AI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-693
Number of pages9
JournalAI and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Ethics
  • Machine ethics
  • Moral authority
  • Raimond Gaita

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