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The Ethics of Artificial Life Essay

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At the end of the last Millennium a group of academics and experts in artificial intelligence postulated fourteen outstanding questions and problems that they believed would need to be solved as the development of artificial life progressed. The fourteenth and final problem posited by this panel was to “establish ethical principles for artificial life” in four main regards: “the sanctity of the biosphere, the sanctity of human life, the responsible treatment of newly generated life forms and the risks of exploitations of artificial life.”(Bedau 374)
As technological and scientific research continues to advance towards both understanding and eventually developing artificial life, the ethical issues that surround the development of new and novel forms of life often seem to be an afterthought; a consequence we will deal with as the actual issues arise. This is not to say that the ethics are not thought of at all, or that waiting to approach these issues when they are less hypothetical is entirely foolhardy, but instead that there is much left to consider as our synthesized and artificial creations approach the fuzzy boundaries of what is considered alive. Bedau et al.’s haphazard placement of all ethical issues under one umbrella problem, and subsequent placement as the last problem on the list is a good illustration of ethics normal place in the discussion of artificial life. This may be because thinkers are currently more focused on the question of “can we make life?” than on “what happens if we make life?” or it may be because technology researchers would prefer to rush forward with a youthful glee, not thinking of the consequences of their actions. But no matter the reason, the ethics of artificial life must be continually disc...


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...au et al. may also believe that there is nothing that can truly prepare us for a future with artificial life. After musing that we can draw from the answers to ethical questions in similar cases found in the disciplines of “animal experimentation, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence”(Bedau 375), the authors quickly follow by adding that these new artificial life forms “will place us in increasingly uncharted ethical terrain.”(Bedau 375) It may well be that we must wait to learn from the consequences, both positive and negative, of our early experiences with artificial life and from those experiences we can begin to reshape our conceptions of ethics, until they are able to provide answers for the many new questions and dilemmas that will surely be raised by the existence of artificial life. In short: we’ll probably have to just make it up as we go along.


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