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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1 Nov. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195374045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195374049
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.3 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 896,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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When machines go it alone, accountability disappears - and with it the rule of law. Which is why philosophers Wendall Wallach and Colin Allen are asking how we can persuade robots to do the right thing. The result, in their Moral Machines, makes clear just how far we have to go. (Stephen Cave, Financial Times)

[an] important book... The arguments are approaches openly and clearly, with due deference to the very wide readership that this title deserves to attract... a valuable crossover resource. (John Gilbery, Times Higher Education)

In contrast to Hollywood's fantasies of intelligent but malignaant doom machines and researchers' speculations about machine-based transcendence, Moral Machines is modest, accurate and informative...the book covers a wide range of approaches, organizing current research into top-down application of traditional ethical theories, bottom-up evolutionary or learning strategies, and work on implementing emotions in computers. (Peter Danielson, NATURE)

So in a single thought-provoking volume, the authors not only introduce machine ethics, but also an inquiry which penetrates to the deepest foundations of ethics. The conscientious reader will no doubt find many challenging ideas here that will require a reassessment of her own beliefs, making this text a must-read among recent books in philosophy, and specifically in ethics. (Dr Anthony F. Beavers, Philosophy Now)

About the Author

Colin Allen is a Professor of History & Philosophy of Science and of Cognitive Science at Indiana University. Wendell Wallach is a consultant and writer and is affiliated with Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The pace of development in A.I. and robotics technologies continues to increase. We are now witnessing an increasing ubiquity of robots, ranging from the humble floor-cleaning Roomba to the lethal SWORDS and Predator drones depolyed by the U.S. military.

Wallach and Allen's book provides a tour de force of the essential considerations humans should have in designing, deploying and interacting with ever more complicated machines. It should be noted that this is neither an introduction to ethical theories nor robotics (though those with no grounding in either should be able to pick it up). In fact the focus of the book, which is also its unique strength when compared to other literature in the field, is that it deals with the practicalities of how one would go about building an ethical robot or virtual agent in the first place.

As a primer for the burgeoning new sciences and their associated ethical trends and ideas in the realm of A.I. and robotics it is difficult to fault this book. It is balanced, very well sourced, highly readable, well structured and is also written with a sense of humour to boot. In fact I would go so far as to say it may be destined to become a classic, especially as this field develops.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Raises problems but offers no solutions 24 Aug. 2013
By Courtney - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book seem to have been infected with the same disease that has ravaged the field of bioethics - the failure to grasp that specialized ethics can only proceed from a general theory of ethics. Without a clear specification of the latter, any attempt to devise ethics for robots, or for physicians, is doomed to incoherence, ambiguity, and confusion. Hence, the main problem with Moral Machines is that it lacks an attempt to reach clarity on human ethics. The book does excel in pointing out the problems with conventional thinking about robot morality, but it fails to describe solutions. The authors' suggestion of having robots acquire morality in the same way that humans do, does not solve the problem. It only guarantees that robots will be as morally confused as we are (e.g. 40% of people would save their dog's life over that of a stranger, according to a recent study at Georgia Regents University). Moreover, this approach fails to select a particular moral tradition in which to raise our robots: Lutheranism? Mormonism? Leftism? Just as we don't want robots to share common confusions about, say, surgical techniques, we don't want them similarly confused about ethics.

This book, which I nonetheless recommend, suffers from the timid, diffident, and tentative tones that afflict most academic writing. The authors seem to be part of an academic community and seek to retain membership by being minimally offensive. Who can fault them? However, this leads to excessively conventional thinking, a disappointing near-term focus, and no real discussion of the morality of hyper-intelligent robots.

If you want a good survey of current thinking on this topic, mundane as this thinking is, this book is a fine choice. If, instead, you prefer attempts to find solutions to the problems addressed in this book I would recommend Artificial Morality: Virtuous Robots for Virtual Games by Peter Danielson, only because it is more concrete. I would also recommend a bold little book called Robot Nation -- Surviving the Greatest Socio-Economic Upheaval of All Time by Stan Neilson, which. despite its title, turns out to be largely about robot morality.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The best robot ethics text yet 20 Dec. 2008
By Keith A. Abney - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Allen and Wallach's Moral Machines is the best text yet in the rapidly expanding field of robot ethics - and their work offers insight into the morals of not only robots, but ourselves as well.

Wallach and Allen examine the strengths and limitations of traditional approaches to ethics, such as deontology and utilitarianism, and the issues that arise in attempting a top-down programming of such rules into a robot. But the history of ethics is replete with controversy over the adequacy of any proposed set of rules - for instance, it might seem logical to switch the track of a runaway trolley that would kill five workers, even if it would thereby kill one person on the other track - switching maximizes utility. But should a doctor then harvest organs from a patient in for a checkup to save five people in the next room needing transplants?

So what should a robot do? An alternative is to attempt a 'bottom up' approach, and teach ethics to robots by trial and error, as we do children. The authors argue that this approach has both technical and rational limitations as well; principles are especially useful in resolving the difficult moral situations we call moral dilemmas. So they argue that a hybrid approach is probably best, and discuss in thought-provoking ways whether robots would need emotions, and how human-like we should desire these robotic agents to be.

Wallach and Allen convincingly argue that even if full moral agency for machines is a long way off, it is already necessary to start instilling into robots a type of functional morality, as robots are already engaged in high-risk situations and are already equipped with lethal weapons (e.g., the Predator drones now flying in Pakistan).

The text is anchored in near-term considerations and hence is light on some of the more far-reaching aspects of robot ethics - for instance, if full human-type ('Kantian') autonomy for robots is possible, should it be allowed? Or should robots be forever relegated to a 'slave morality', so they could never ultimately choose their own life's goals - lest they be harmful to humans? But the failure to engage in these more long-term debates simply underlines the near-term strengths of this text. For those wondering (or worried) about moral questions involving robots over the next decade, this is a must-read.

P.S. They also have a nice blog with updates: [...]
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Limited imaginations 28 Dec. 2009
By Peter McCluskey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book combines the ideas of leading commentators on ethics, methods of implementing AI, and the risks of AI, into a set of ideas on how machines ought to achieve ethical behavior.

The book mostly provides an accurate survey of what those commentators agree and disagree about. But there's enough disagreement that we need some insights into which views are correct (especially about theories of ethics) in order to produce useful advice to AI designers, and the authors don't have those kinds of insights.

The book focuses more on near term risks of software that is much less intelligent than humans, and is complacent about the risks of superhuman AI.

The implications of superhuman AIs for theories of ethics ought to illuminate flaws in them that aren't obvious when considering purely human-level intelligence. For example, they mention an argument that any AI would value humans for their diversity of ideas, which would help AIs to search the space of possible ideas. This seems to have serious problems, such as what stops an AI from fiddling with human minds to increase their diversity? Yet the authors are too focused on human-like minds to imagine an intelligence which would do that.

Their discussion of the advocates friendly AI seems a bit confused. The authors wonder if those advocates are trying to quell apprehension about AI risks, when I've observed pretty consistent efforts by those advocates to create apprehension among AI researchers.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Eloquent and Thought-Inspiring 22 Sept. 2012
By N. Coppedge - Published on
Format: Paperback
From a philosophical writer's point of view, this is one of the best-written books I've ever read. And that deserves emphasis. The writers' ingenuity in connecting the thought frameworks from networks of major concepts to another network of major concepts, and from one minor concept, and connecting to the next, or returning to a previous example, is really profound and unusual. I'm tempted to say that this book passes as poetry.

Additionally, I made copious notes and breezed through the book in less than a week. So, as non-fiction goes, yes its readable. It's also more intelligent than the average philosophy book in terms of the brilliance of interpretation and the potential to find "juicy details". Although it is not brilliant everywhere (and few books are, outside of Confucius, the Buddha, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and perhaps Erasmus), there are reflections of brilliant thoughts on nearly every page.

Students of philosophy with an interest in entities, interfaces, and social science conundrums will love this book. I agree with the other reviewers that the significant bibliographic material is a major enhancement of the experience.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The best book for teaching 12 July 2011
By Chris Santos-Lang - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although this book is accessible to a popular audience, it has obvious academic merit. The authors thoroughly search-out all perspectives in this new field (i.e. it has a huge bibliography) and treat each perspective with skillful fairness. It both establishes itself as the authoritative reference, framing the issues for the new field of machine ethics, and establishes the credibility of the field as an academic pursuit. Good libraries ought to have this book.

This book was not intended as an introduction to ethics, but it is the book I would be inclined to assign as an ethics textbook. It covers an introduction to ethics, of course, but also covers material in related disciplines (psychology, economics, etc.), and gets technical about where our society assumes ethical faculties. It forces the reader to think about how ethics work, rather than just express opinions about contemporary moral issues, and is probably the very best book in existence for giving readers an appreciation for the ways the field of ethics will have to grow in the near future.
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