A key distinction in ethics is between members and nonmembers of the moral community. Over time, our notion of this community has expanded as we have moved from a rationality criterion to a sentience criterion for membership. I argue that a sentience criterion is insufficient to accommodate all members of the moral community; the true underlying criterion can be understood in terms of whether a being has interests. This may be extended to conscious, self-aware machines, as well as to any autonomous intelligent machines. Such machines exhibit an ability to formulate desires for the course of their own existence; this gives them basic moral standing. While not all machines display autonomy, those which do must be treated as moral patients; to ignore their claims to moral recognition is to repeat past errors. I thus urge moral generosity with respect to the ethical claims of intelligent machines.
Philosophy & Technology – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 29, 2013