Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 629–653 | Cite as

Toward an Ethics of AI Assistants: an Initial Framework

  • John DanaherEmail author
Research Article


Personal AI assistants are now nearly ubiquitous. Every leading smartphone operating system comes with a personal AI assistant that promises to help you with basic cognitive tasks: searching, planning, messaging, scheduling and so on. Usage of such devices is effectively a form of algorithmic outsourcing: getting a smart algorithm to do something on your behalf. Many have expressed concerns about this algorithmic outsourcing. They claim that it is dehumanising, leads to cognitive degeneration, and robs us of our freedom and autonomy. Some people have a more subtle view, arguing that it is problematic in those cases where its use may degrade important interpersonal virtues. In this article, I assess these objections to the use of AI assistants. I will argue that the ethics of their use is complex. There are no quick fixes or knockdown objections to the practice, but there are some legitimate concerns. By carefully analysing and evaluating the objections that have been lodged to date, we can begin to articulate an ethics of personal AI use that navigates those concerns. In the process, we can locate some paradoxes in our thinking about outsourcing and technological dependence, and we can think more clearly about what it means to live a good life in the age of smart machines.


Artificial intelligence Degeneration Cognitive outsourcing Embodied cognition Autonomy Interpersonal communications 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawNUI GalwayGalwayIreland

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