Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ethics for robots

Watch the video and read the article Morals and the Machine at

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.

As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas. Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driverless car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic? Such questions have led to the emergence of the field of “machine ethics”, which aims to give machines the ability to make such choices appropriately—in other words, to tell right from wrong.


Assignment 7

1. What are the ethical issues identified in “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript? How might they best be addressed?”


2. Find and explain one other case of ethical issues arising from big data. What’s the case and what’s the ethical issue? (Pls give sources and links.)


500 words, due by noon Wednesday 19th here or on the forum.

Privacy, big data, and your health

“John Wilbanks wants to create an open, massive, mine-able database of health and genomics data from many sources. As the chief commons officer at , he focuses on the ethics and procedures necessary to turn genetic info into big data — giving researchers the potential to spot patterns that they simply cannot see up-close.”

Sample essay questions for paper 2

Big Data

– Is it ethical to use ‘big data’ in research?

·     – Evaluate the strategy proposed by Payne and Trumbach with regard to data mining and consumers’ information.


Gender and the Internet

·     – How can a feminist ethics guide our understanding of cyberethics?

·     – Does gender matter in computer ethics?  Evaluate the argument made by Adam and Ofori-Amanfo.


Disability and Access

·    – Evaluate the guidelines proposed by Perry et. al. regarding the provision of equal access to information via computer technology for persons with disabilities.

·    – Discuss the disability divide and digital inequality.  What are the possible barriers for some people with disabilities, and how ought they be addressed?


Virtual Agents

·     – Do robots have agency and, if so, to what extent?

·     – How can Coleman’s virtue ethic, specifically android arete, guide our understanding of computational agents?

International Women’s Day

“The first is that girls and young women now view their online world and their real world as having no clear boundaries: their digital connectivity is of primary importance to their social ‘real world’ lives – They shop online, date online, find their entertainment online and create an online identity that strongly shapes who they are, their value and self confidence in their ‘real world lives.”

Women’s Voices in Social Media,

Ethics and etiquette: Assignment 6

phonesIn class on Thursday we talked about the relationship between ethics and etiquette, in particular when it comes to the use of mobile computing devices such as smart phones.

“We rarely stop to notice that our everyday social interactions are governed by a highly complex system of rules.  Though often only implicit, there are rules governing how to board an elevator, how close one may stand to another when in conversation, when to bring a gift to a party, and how to maintain one’s privacy. These rules are simply taken for granted, and when we regard them at all, we typically see them merely as instruments for social coordination, ways of keeping out of each other’s way.  Yet when others flout the rules—say, when someone cuts a long line that we have been waiting in at the coffee shop—we  we feel not only that cooperation has broken down; we also tend to feel that in cutting the line, the cutter wronged us in some way.  And so it goes for many of the rules pertaining to etiquette and manners, they have moral content.

In On Manners (Routledge, 2011), Karen Stohr examines the morally complex world of etiquette.  She maintains that rules of etiquette and manners are expressions of deeper moral principles.  Considering a broad range of kinds of social contexts, Stohr develops a compelling account of the nature and philosophical significance of having good manners.”

Listen to Karen Stohr here,

Comment on the blog explaining how Stohr thinks ethics and etiquette are connected. Give an example of an ethical or etiquette question related to smart phone use, give one resolution, and say what it makes it an ethical problem or a matter of etiquette or both. 500 words.

Due Wednesday, March 12th, by noon.