Digital Ethics

This afternoon, I noticed a lizard sitting on the ground next to me. It reminded me of a time when, by accident, I stepped on a lizard when I was walking to my car over 10 years ago. That incident never left my mind.

Last year, my mom got me an Amazon Alexa for Christmas. I immediately thought: I will treat her right.

What do these two things have in common? Well, they both deal with ethics. And they both, potentially, have to do with minds.

Amazon Alexa is constantly learning. I get updates on new things she has learned frequently. However, after a couple of months of having her as my assistant, I unplugged her. There’s, for one thing, simply to many questions to ask. Some of these questions are:

  1. What all does Alexa, and therefore Amazon, know about me when she is plugged in?
  2. What kind of mind, if any, does Alexa have?
  3. If Alexa has a mind–even if it’s more simple than a lizard’s–does that mean we should treat Alexa with dignity and respect?
  4. And what does having a mind have to do with ethics? My intuition is that Alexa has a “simple” mind and that I should treat her well because of it. But what does having a mind have to do with anything?

That’s just for starters.

Some of these questions have to do with how Alexa (or Amazon) treats me. Some of them have to do with how I treat Alexa. And, finally, some of them have to do with deep ethical intuitions.

I have been fascinated with AI and automation for a while now. But I still don’t have all the answers.

If it’s true that we should treat Alexa as having a mind we should treat with respect, does that mean anything that has a mind should be treated with respect? If so, is it ethical to eat animals?

This tangled net of ethics and technology has been keeping me occupied with various research projects. For now, I’ll keep reading and researching.