Moral agency without responsibility? Analysis of three ethical models of human-computer interaction in times of artificial intelligence (AI)

  • Alexis Fritz Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany
  • Wiebke Brandt Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany
  • Henner Gimpel Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT, Germany
  • Sarah Bayer FIM Kernkompetenzzentrum, Germany
Keywords: human-computer interaction, responsibility, technical philosophy, Luciano Floridi, Deborah G. Johnson, Peter-Paul Verbeek

Abstract

Philosophical and sociological approaches in technology have increasingly shifted toward describing AI (artificial intelligence) systems as ‘(moral) agents,’ while also attributing ‘agency’ to them. It is only in this way – so their principal argument goes – that the effects of technological components in a complex human-computer interaction can be understood sufficiently in phenomenological-descriptive and ethical-normative respects. By contrast, this article aims to demonstrate that an explanatory model only achieves a descriptively and normatively satisfactory result if the concepts of ‘(moral) agent’ and ‘(moral) agency’ are exclusively related to human agents. Initially, the division between symbolic and sub-symbolic AI, the black box character of (deep) machine learning, and the complex relationship network in the provision and application of machine learning are outlined. Next, the ontological and action-theoretical basic assumptions of an ‘agency’ attribution regarding both the current teleology-naturalism debate and the explanatory model of actor network theory are examined. On this basis, the technical-philosophical approaches of Luciano Floridi, Deborah G. Johnson, and Peter-Paul Verbeek will all be critically discussed. Despite their different approaches, they tend to fully integrate computational behavior into their concept of ‘(moral) agency.’ By contrast, this essay recommends distinguishing conceptually between the different entities, causalities, and relationships in a human-computer interaction, arguing that this is the only way to do justice to both human responsibility and the moral significance and causality of computational behavior.

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Published
2020-06-30
How to Cite
Fritz, A., Brandt, W., Gimpel, H. and Bayer, S. (2020) “Moral agency without responsibility? Analysis of three ethical models of human-computer interaction in times of artificial intelligence (AI)”, De Ethica, 6(1), pp. 3-22. doi: 10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.20613.
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Articles