Jason Millar on Proxy Prudence – Rethinking Models of Responsibility for Semi-autonomous Robots

Proxy Prudence – Rethinking Models of Responsibility for Semi-autonomous Robots
Jason Millar

Jason Millar

Jason Millar

As robots become more autonomous—capable of acting in complex ways, independent of direct human interaction—their actions will challenge traditional notions of responsibility. How, for example, do we sort out responsibility when a self-driving car swerves this way or that in a situation where all possible outcomes lead to harm? This paper explores the question of responsibility from both philosophical and legal perspectives, by examining the relationship between designers, semi-autonomous robots and users. Borrowing concepts from the philosophy of technology, bioethics and law, I argue that in certain use contexts we can reasonably describe a robot as acting as a moral proxy on behalf of a person. In those cases I argue it is important to instantiate the proxy relationship in a morally justifiable way. I examine two questions that are helpful in determining how to appropriately instantiate proxy relationships with semi-autonomous robots, and that we can also ask when attempting to sort out responsibility: 1) On whose behalf was the robot acting?; and 2) On whose behalf ought the robot to have been acting?

Focusing on proxy relationships allows us to shift our focus away from a strictly causal model of responsibility and focus also on a proxy model informed by an ethical analysis of the nature of the designer-artefact-user relationship. By doing so I argue that we gain some traction on problems of responsibility with semi-autonomous robots. I examine two cases to demonstrate how a shift towards a proxy model of responsibility, and away from a strictly causal model of responsibility helps to manage risks and provides a more accurate accounting of responsibility in some use contexts. I offer some suggestions how we might decide whom a robot ought legitimately to be acting on behalf of, while offering some thoughts on what legal and ethical implications my argument carries for designers and users.

Jason Millar will present Proxy Prudence – Rethinking Models of Responsibility for Semi-autonomous Robots on Friday, April 4th at 10:15 AM with discussant Peter Asaro at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center in Coral Gables, Florida.

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