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Assessing the Moral Status of Robots: A Shorter Defence of Ethical Behaviourism

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[This is the text of a lecture that I delivered at Tilburg University on the 24th of September 2019. It was delivered as part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations for TILT (Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society). My friend and colleague Sven Nyholm was the discussant for the evening. The lecture is based on my longer academic article ‘Welcoming Robots into the Moral Circle: A Defence of Ethical Behaviourism’ but was written from scratch and presents some key arguments in a snappier and clearer form. I also include a follow up section responding to criticisms from the audience on the evening of the lecture My thanks to all those involved in organizing the event (Aviva de Groot, Merel Noorman and Silvia de Conca in particular)]1. IntroductionMy lecture this evening will be about the conditions under which we should welcome robots into our moral communities. Whenever I talk about this, I am struck by how much my academic career has come to depend upon my misspent youth for its inspiration. Like many others, I was obsessed with science fiction as a child, and in particular with the representation of robots in science fiction. I had two favourite, fictional, robots. The first was R2D2 from the original Star Wars trilogy. The second was Commander Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation. I liked R2D2 because of his* personality - courageous, playful, disdainful of authority - and I liked Data because the writers of Star Trek used him as a vehicle for exploring some important philosophical questions about emotion, humour, and what it means to be human.In fact, I have to confess that Data has had an outsized influence on my philosophical imagination and has featured in several of my academic papers. Part of the reason for this was practical. When I grew up in Ireland we didn’t have many options to choose from when it came to TV. We had to make do with what was available and, as luck would have it, Star Trek: TNG was on every day when I came home from school. As. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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