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Robot ethics

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How to make ethical robots, Phys.org, March 12, 2012

Your self-driving car is speeding along the highway. A school bus suddenly stops in your path. Does your car hit the school bus or swerve into nearby traffic?

I believe the following questions need to be answered about this scenario:

Asimov's three laws of robotics are often mentioned in these discussions due to their popularity:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Notice that these "laws" do not actually address any of the above questions. Of course, Asimov used these laws as literary devices. He explored instances when they are actually the source of confusion rather than clarity.

Elevator doors

In case you were curious, here are the regulations relating to elevator doors:

2.13.3 Power Closing

2.13.3.1 Power Closing or Automatic Self-Closing of Car Doors or Gates Where Used With Manually Operated or Self-Closing Hoistway Doors

2.13.3.1.1 Where a car door or gate of an automatic or continuous-pressure operation passenger elevator is closed by power, or is of the automatically released self-closing type, and faces a manually operated or self-closing hoistway door, the closing of the car door or gate shall not be initiated unless the hoistway door is in the closed position, and the closing mechanism shall be so designed that the force necessary to prevent closing of a horizontally sliding car door or gate from rest is not more than 135 N (30 lbf).

2.13.3.1.2 Requirement 2.13.3.1.1 does not apply where a car door or gate is closed by power through continuous pressure of a door closing switch, or of the car operating device, and where the release of the closing switch or operating device will cause the car door or gate to stop or to stop and reopen.

— ASME A17.1 (2004): Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators (Download from archive.org) (emphasis added)

These are operational requirements. They make no reference to "artificial intelligence," "software," or even "autonomy." I suppose that means that regardless of how it all works, these requirements must be met.

Responses to the three laws

Moor's response

The first law seems to require too much. A robot through inaction is not allowed to let a human being to come to harm. Because humans around the world are always getting in harm's way, robots following this law would have an unending job of seeking out potential collision courses and intercepting humans before disasters occurred. So much for keeping the robot at home doing the dishes. Even if ordered to stay at home (second law), the robot would depart for an eternity of supererogatory service (priority of the first law).

The first law is contradictory within some situations. Consider a situation in which a robot must harm someone in order to prevent harm. For example, a robot surgeon must operate and replace a patient's heart in order to prevent a fatal heart attack, but in order to perform the operation the robot must first harm the patient by taking out his heart. The subordinate status of the second law eliminates the possibility of giving consent to violations of the first law. Suppose someone orders a robot dentist to repair a cavity in her teeth. Consent should justify the harm done, but the robot can't follow her order because drilling her teeth or even giving Novocain will cause discomfort and the first law takes precedence over the second.

Had Asimov's robots been instructed not harm a human, neglect a duty, or violate a right unless such an action were based on a policy that could be impartially universalized, they would have gotten into much less trouble.

— J.H. Moor, "Is Ethics Computable?" Metaphilosophy 26(1&2), 1995. (link)

Three laws of responsible robotics

  1. A human may not deploy a robot without the human–robot work system meeting the highest legal and professional standards of safety and ethics.
  2. A robot must respond to humans as appropriate for their roles.
  3. A robot must be endowed with sufficient situated autonomy to protect its own existence as long as such protection provides smooth transfer of control to other agents consistent with the first and second laws.

— R.R. Murphy and D.D. Woods, "Beyond Asimov: The Three Laws of Responsible Robotics," IEEE Intelligent Systems 24(4), 2009 (PDF)

"Robots exist in an open world where you can't predict everything that's going to happen. The robot has to have some autonomy in order to act and react in a real situation. It needs to make decisions to protect itself, but it also needs to transfer control to humans when appropriate. You don't want a robot to drive off a ledge, for instance — unless a human needs the robot to drive off the ledge. When those situations happen, you need to have smooth transfer of control from the robot to the appropriate human," Woods said.

"The bottom line is, robots need to be responsive and resilient. They have to be able to protect themselves and also smoothly transfer control to humans when necessary." — David Woods, quoted here

Machine ethics

Implicit ethical agents

If you wish to put ethics into a machine, how would you do it? One way is to constrain the machine's actions to avoid unethical outcomes. You might satisfy machine ethics in this sense by creating software that implicitly supports ethical behavior, rather than by writing code containing explicit ethical maxims. The machine acts ethically because its internal functions implicitly promote ethical behavior—or at least avoid unethical behavior. Ethical behavior is the machine's nature. It has, to a limited extent, virtues.

[An ATM] must be carefully constructed to give out or transfer the correct amount of money every time a banking transaction occurs. A line of code telling the computer to be honest won't accomplish this.

Machines' capability to be implicit ethical agents doesn't demonstrate their ability to be full-fledged ethical agents. Nevertheless, it illustrates an important sense of machine ethics.

— J.H. Moor, "The Nature, Importance, and Difficulty of Machine Ethics," IEEE Intelligent Systems 21(4), 2006 (PDF)

Explicit ethical agents

Can ethics exist explicitly in a machine? Can a machine represent ethical categories and perform analysis in the sense that a computer can represent and analyze inventory or tax information? Can a machine "do" ethics like a computer can play chess?

Although clear examples of machines acting as explicit ethical agents are elusive, some current developments suggest interesting movements in that direction. [goes on to discuss various logical approaches to representing and reasoning about ethical dilemmas] — op. cit.

Full ethical agents

A full ethical agent can make explicit ethical judgments and generally is competent to reasonably justify them. An average adult human is a full ethical agent. […] an a machine be a full ethical agent? It's here that the debate about machine ethics becomes most heated. Many believe a bright line exists between the senses of machine ethics discussed so far and a full ethical agent. For them, a machine can't cross this line. The bright line marks a crucial ontological difference between humans and whatever machines might be in the future. — op. cit.

Is ethics computable?

The suggestion that ethical decision making is a matter of calculation is not new and, indeed, has had a profound influence on the development of ethical theory.

— J.H. Moor, "Is Ethics Computable?" Metaphilosophy 26(1&2), 1995. (link)

Bentham's utilitarianism

Bentham's theory is the epitome of the use of calculation in ethics and is worth examining in some detail because it reveals what is promising and what is troubling about ethical calculations. — op. cit.

According to Bentham, utility is a property of an object whereby it tends to produce pleasure or prevent pain. The utility of any action can be measured in terms of the amount of pleasure it tends to produce and pain it tends to prevent. Hence, determining what should be done is a matter of calculating the utility of actions. The higher the utility; the better the action.

Moor's description of Bentham's "procedure":

Begin with someone whose interests seem immediately affected by the act.

  1. Determine the amount of the initial pleasures produced by the act.
  2. Determine the amount of the initial pains produced by the act.
  3. Determine the amount of the subsequent pleasures produced by the act.
  4. Determine the amount of the subsequent pains produced by the act.
  5. Sum the amount of the pleasures and sum the amount of the pains.
  6. Repeat the process for each individual affected by the action and then
    • Sum the sums for the individual pleasures.
    • Sum the sums of the individual pains.
    • If sum of pleasure is greater than sum of pain, the difference is the general good tendency of the act; and if sum of pain is greater than sum of pleasure, the difference is the general evil tendency of the act.

Notice that Bentham's routine is incomplete as it stands. The procedure instructs us to calculate the good tendency or evil tendency of an action but does not explicitly furnish instructions for determining how many actions to consider.

[…]

The strong interpretation is that all possible actions must be considered and the action with the greatest good tendency (or least evil tendency) on the basis of utility should be chosen. […] This strong interpretation, though probably the most popular view of utilitarianism, undercuts one of its greatest strengths — its computational foundation.

[…]

Another problem of an infinite or at least an impractically large number of calculations arises in considering the consequences of an action. Consequences of actions go on and on.

Yet, as impressive as Bentham's theory is from a computational point of view, it is vulnerable to some well-known philosophical objections. First, Bentham's hedonistic theory seems too narrow because it considers pleasure as the only good and pain as the only evil. Second, his theory downplays and even ignores important ethical concepts such as the notions of rights and duties. Both of these objections point to flaws in Bentham's theory, but, of course, they do not establish that better ethical theories cannot be computational in nature.

Nevada's actual laws regarding autonomous vehicles

(source)

As a Nevada Autonomous Vehicle Testing Company, I affirm to the best of my knowledge and belief, each vehicle to be tested in Nevada: […]

  • has a switch to engage and disengage the autonomous vehicle that is easily accessible to the operator and is not likely to distract the operator from focusing on the road while engaging or disengaging the autonomous vehicle;
  • has a system to safely alert the operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle if a technology failure is detected;
  • is equipped with autonomous technology which does not adversely affect any other safety features of the vehicle which are subject to federal regulation.

— Nevada DMV, Autonomous Vehicle Business License Application Packet (OBL 326) (PDF); more info

If the certificate of compliance certifies that the autonomous vehicle is capable of being operated in autonomous mode without the physical presence of the operator in the vehicle, the person may operate the vehicle in this State without being physically present in the autonomous vehicle.

For the purpose of enforcing the traffic laws and other laws applicable to drivers and motor vehicles operated in this State, the operator of an autonomous vehicle that is operated in autonomous mode shall be deemed the driver of the autonomous vehicle regardless of whether the person is physically present in the autonomous vehicle while it is engaged.

— Nevada DMV, Administrative Regulations - LCB File R-084-11 (PDF); more info (emphasis added)

During testing (before Nevada issues the final approval for the vehicle),

Unless otherwise approved in advance by the Department, a licensee shall ensure that at least two persons are physically present in an autonomous vehicle at all times that the autonomous vehicle is being tested on a highway in this State, one of whom is the operator and must at all times be seated in a position which allows the person to take complete control of the vehicle, including, without limitation, control of the steering, throttle and brakes.

The two persons who are required to be physically present in an autonomous vehicle while it is tested on a highway in this State:

  • Must each hold a valid driver’s license that has been issued in the state in which the person resides, but are not required to have a driver’s license endorsement to operate the autonomous vehicle as provided in section 5 of this regulation;
  • Must be trained in the operation of the autonomous vehicle and have received instruction concerning the capabilities and limitations of the autonomous vehicle; and
  • Shall each actively monitor for any aberration in the functioning of the autonomous vehicle while it is engaged.

— Nevada DMV, Administrative Regulations - LCB File R-084-11

The license can be revoked/suspended/etc. if (among other typical reasons),

[…] the Department has reasonable cause to believe that any model of autonomous vehicle or artificial intelligence and technology used in an autonomous vehicle of the licensee presents an unsafe condition for operation on the highways of this State.

— Nevada DMV, Administrative Regulations - LCB File R-084-11

Before an autonomous vehicle can be sold by a dealer, a certificate is required that states (in part),

A certificate of compliance […] must certify that the autonomous technology installed on the autonomous vehicle:

  • [has a black box like an airplane]
  • Has a switch to engage and disengage the autonomous vehicle that is easily accessible to the operator of the autonomous vehicle and is not likely to distract the operator from focusing on the road while engaging or disengaging the autonomous vehicle.
  • Has a visual indicator inside the autonomous vehicle which indicates when the autonomous vehicle is engaged in autonomous mode.
  • Has a visual indicator inside the autonomous vehicle which indicates when the autonomous vehicle is engaged in autonomous mode.
  • Has a system to safely alert the operator of the autonomous vehicle if a technology failure is detected while the autonomous vehicle is engaged in autonomous mode, and when such an alert is given, either:
    • Requires the operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle; or
    • If the operator is unable to take control of or is not physically present in the autonomous vehicle, is equipped with technology to cause the autonomous vehicle to safely move out of traffic and come to a stop. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to authorize or require the modification of a system installed in compliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations unless the modification can be performed without adversely affecting the autonomous vehicle’s compliance with the federal standards and regulations.
  • Does not adversely affect any other safety features of the autonomous vehicle which are subject to federal regulation.
  • Is capable of being operated in compliance with the applicable traffic laws of this State and must indicate whether the autonomous vehicle may be operated with or without the physical presence of an operator.
  • If it is necessary for the operator of the autonomous vehicle to be physically present in the autonomous vehicle when it is engaged, allows the operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle in multiple manners, including, without limitation, through the use of the brake, the accelerator pedal and the steering wheel and alerts the operator that the autonomous mode has been disengaged.
  • In addition to the requirements set forth in subsection 2, the certificate of compliance must certify that an owner's manual has been prepared for the autonomous vehicle which describes any limitations and capabilities of the autonomous vehicle, including, without limitation, whether the operator of the autonomous vehicle must be physically present in the autonomous vehicle while the vehicle is engaged in autonomous mode. A licensed vehicle dealer or a licensed autonomous technology certification facility shall ensure that a copy of such a manual is provided to the purchaser of an autonomous vehicle.

— Nevada DMV, Administrative Regulations - LCB File R-084-11

Additionally, the DMV can revoke/suspend/etc. the license if "the Director or authorized representative finds that the action is necessary and in the public interest." Furthermore, to make sure the reason is a good one, "In any such case, a hearing must be held and a final decision rendered within 30 days after notice of the temporary suspension."

"It turns out the issues around 'autonomy,' adding to what the machines can do by themselves, are not about autonomy but about interaction. The more you can do by yourself, the more important your interactions with others who would utilize or interact with what you can do by yourself becomes important." — David Woods, ISE 773 at OSU, Autumn 2006 (recording)

Autonomous killers

Quoting from "Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots," Human Rights Watch, released Nov. 19, 2012.

  • Human-in-the-Loop Weapons: Robots that can select targets and deliver force only with a human command;
  • Human-on-the-Loop Weapons: Robots that can select targets and deliver force under the oversight of a human operator who can override the robot's actions; and
  • Human-out-of-the-Loop Weapons: Robots that are capable of selecting targets and delivering force without any human input or interaction.

Fully autonomous weapons, […] do not yet exist, but technology is moving in the direction of their development and precursors are already in use. […] Militaries value these weapons because they require less manpower, reduce the risks to their own soldiers, and can expedite response time. — op. cit.

[R]obots with complete autonomy would be incapable of meeting international humanitarian law standards. The rules of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity are especially important tools for protecting civilians from the effects of war, and fully autonomous weapons would not be able to abide by those rules. — op. cit.

[D]istinguishing between a fearful civilian and a threatening enemy combatant requires a soldier to understand the intentions behind a human's actions, something a robot could not do. In addition, fully autonomous weapons would likely contravene the Martens Clause, which prohibits weapons that run counter to the "dictates of public conscience." — op. cit.

Given that such a robot could identify a target and launch an attack on its own power, it is unclear who should be held responsible for any unlawful actions it commits. Options include the military commander that deployed it, the programmer, the manufacturer, and the robot itself, but all are unsatisfactory. — op. cit.

Robots in practice

Walk through an example: a "take your medicine" robot

  • define the use cases, etc.
  • why would we make such a robot?
  • what are the ethical concerns?
  • what are good standards to require of the robots?
  • how do we codify the standards to ensure minimal ambiguity?
  • how do we build robots that meet the standards?

Robots in joint systems

Robots are not stakeholders, regardless of the degree of autonomy. Robots are stand-ins for distant groups; they are extenders of human scope. They are at the "sharp end" of the system, the ones that can act in the hotzone. We do not necessarily need to teleoperate them, not exercise absolute control. Rather, there is benefit in giving them some autonomy and reasoning capabilities. But the challenge is to ensure the whole team is working towards the same goals. The challenge is coordination: hand-off of control, signaling and displaying relevant information, maintaining common ground.

The questions should not be "how can we reduce the numbers of humans in the hotzone and increase the numbers of autonomous robots?" but rather "how can we use robots, as extenders of our interests, as team members, and enhance our capabilities while maintaining coordination?"

David Woods: "We have a track record of engineering success when we focus on expanding human perception via remote perception (bringing the world at different scales into the human perceptual scale), rather than developing reasoning capabilities."

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

Intro to AI material by Joshua Eckroth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Source code for this website available at GitHub.