Ethics of Human Interaction with Robotic, Bionic, and AI Systems
workshop supported by the ETHICBOTS European Project
From the Ethics of Technology to the Ethics of Knowledge Assessment*
Rene von Schomberg (European Commission, Directorate General for Research**)
My analysis departs from the contested assumption that contemporary ethical theories can not capture adequately the ethical and social challenges of scientific and technological development. This assumption is routed in the argument that classical ethical theory always addresses the issue of ethical responsibility in terms how intentional actions of individuals can be justified. Scientific and technological developments, however, have produced unintentional consequences and side-consequences. These consequences are very often the results of collective decisions on the way we wish to organise our economies and society, rather than from individual actions. For already a long time, it is not sufficient to construct an ethics of science and technology on the basis of the image of a scientist who intentionally wants to create a Frankenstein. So as a minimum we would require an ethical framework that addresses both the aspect of unintentional side consequences (rather than intentional actions) and the aspect of collective decisions (rather than individual decisions) with regard to complex societal systems, such as the operation of our economy. We do not have such a theory at our disposal. More disturbing than the principle shortcomings of ethical theory, constitute the shortcomings of conventional ethical practice vis a vis technological developments. Below I will mention how four developments can illustrate these shortcomings, which centre around the fact that individuals in our society can simply not be held fully accountable for their individual role within the context of scientific technological developments. I will call it the shortcomings of a theory (and practice) of individual role responsibility. From there, I will argue why we have to shift our attention to an ethics of knowledge assessment in the framework of deliberative procedures instead.
* Presented at 3rd workshop of the Forum on Sustainable Technological Development in a globalised World, 8-10 December 2005 in Budapest (will appear as a book chapter with Sigma edited by I. Hronsky in the course of 2007) and also Presented at the University of Namur, 17 November 2005 in the conference/seminar series " Communication et Société: raison technique, raison éthique et gouvernance démocratique" (will appear as a book chapter in a volume edited by Ph.Goujon in the course of 2007). The article has benefited from cooperation with Prof. Carl Mitcham (Univ. Colorado ) and Angela Pereira, Joint Research Centre, Ispra)
** The views expressed here are those of the author and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.