Decentered ethics in the machine era and guidance for AI regulation


Recent advancements in AI have prompted a large number of AI ethics guidelines published by governments and nonprofits. While many of these papers propose concrete or seemingly applicable ideas, few philosophically sound proposals are made. In particular, we observe that the line of questioning has often not been examined critically and underlying conceptual problems not always dealt with at the root. In this paper, we investigate the nature of ethical AI systems and what their moral status might be by first turning to the notions of moral agency and patience. We find that their explication would come at a too high cost which is why we, second, articulate a different approach that avoids vague and ambiguous concepts or the problem of other minds. Third, we explore the impact of our philosophical and conceptual analysis on the regulatory landscape, make this link explicit, and finally propose a set of promising policy steps.

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    The first Level-3 autonomous car hit the roads in 2018 (cf. and several OEMs claim Level-5 autonomy to become a reality in 5–20 years (cf.;

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    A functionalist, by contrast, would remain agnostic and simply decide not to decide about the state of machine consciousness in lieu of attempting to sort out the seemingly irreducible problem of “other minds”. This, however, is just another position one can take and, thereby, demonstrates how much room for intellectual disputes such metaphysical questions and problems leave.

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    Even though we would reject to operate with such metaphysically loaded concepts like personhood (see Sect. 4.1), we appreciate the behavioristic approach embraced by MacDorman and Cowley.

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Correspondence to Christian Hugo Hoffmann.

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Hoffmann, C.H., Hahn, B. Decentered ethics in the machine era and guidance for AI regulation. AI & Soc 35, 635–644 (2020).

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  • AI ethics
  • Decentralization
  • Moral status
  • Moral patiency
  • Regulations