I am in the process of writing a science fiction novel that will involve a large quantity and variety of synthetic life forms. I have been highly influenced by the works of Asimov, and while I may not explicitly state the laws I utilize for the governance of artificial life, I want to have a solid footing for how my robots -or whatever they might be called- are able to make ethical decisions. From a plot perspective, I also want some realistic ways ways that these rules could be hacked or otherwise subverted.

I know I could ask this question on a pure coding site, but I don't want to be inundated with lines of raw code. At the same time I don't want to read through tomes of philosophy that have no foundation in modern computer programming. I'm looking for something in between... So I thought that there must be some other sci-fi minded folks around writers.SE with experience into this type of research. Pseudo-code would be fine, but I really don't want to sit down with AI scripts and try to project them far out into the future. For those who might think that I'm trying to avoid doing research, I would merely say, I love doing research, but I could use some help on where to focus that research at the moment.

So to restate the question: Are there any writers here who can recommend good middle-ground resources that deal with the concepts of the philosophy and programming of artificial intelligence and/or systematic ethics?

Sorry if this is a strange question, and thank you to everyone who takes the time to consider it.

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    You might also ask over at scifi.stackexchange.com – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 21 '12 at 18:06
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    There are Wikipedia entries about this topic with a long list of references. An obvious Google search point out others. Could you elaborate what is missing there, so we can answer your question better? Examples: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_artificial_intelligence - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roboethics - cs.bath.ac.uk/~jjb/web/ai.html - links999.net/robotics/artificial_intelligence/index.html – John Smithers Jan 21 '12 at 18:17
  • I appreciate the suggestions and will repost at scifi.SE... To be more specific, I am trying to avoid pure conjecture. It's easier to find opinions than it is to find examples, so if I had to choose one or the other I would prefer more technical responses. A perfect response might be someone taking Asimov's 3 laws and writing them out as algorithms. Or any set of algorithms that might be intended as the basis for ethical artificial life... Whatever resources I settle on, I obviously have a lot more reading to do. – Steve the Maker Jan 21 '12 at 22:46
  • Hi Steve, I'm afraid research questions are off-topic here, as per this FAQ and [similar] (meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/294/…) ones. Sorry to be discouraging, but I hope you'll find the linked discussions to be clear and reasonable. And good luck finding the resources you're looking for - sounds cool! – Standback Jan 23 '12 at 8:24
  • BTW, you'll probably find a lot of good resources by googling the phrase you're interested in, plus "popular science" - that'll give you a lot of introductory articles, including Wikipedia articles, that'll be both informative and helpful for finding more in-depth resources. – Standback Jan 23 '12 at 8:27

There is one simple problem with describing ethics as algorithms; there are too many different opinions on what's right and wrong! (Or if 'right' and 'wrong' even exist.)

Asimov, for example, had his robots follow a very simple ethic code (no wordplay intended!). As a result, Asimov's robots can't make difficult decisions. A robot would not be able to cope with a situation where it must kill a terrorist to save someone else's life, for instance.

Will your synthetic life forms all follow the same ethical guidelines, or will different 'species' (or models?) have different ideas of what is right and wrong?

Once you've settled on a set of ethical rules, I don't think you need to get too technical with the actual coding. Even nowadays, programming requires less technical details, and enables one to simply write what he wants done. (As someone expressed it, "Nowadays, you deal with the what and let the code deal with the how.)

In short, a simple algorithm should do, as long as it doesn't leave any holes.

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  • Accepted for the effort... I would like to discuss these things more but if they've been deemed off-topic here I guess I won't take it personally. Thank you for the feedback. As for my plans, I intend on having intentionally contradictory algorithms working in tension, but that's another topic for another day. – Steve the Maker Jan 23 '12 at 19:07
  • Interesting; not only do I have no recollection whatsoever of writing this, but I disagree with myself on a lot of points here. – Yehuda Shapira Jun 26 '17 at 14:10
  • Just a note: Asimov's work was exactly done to show how ridiculous the idea of controlling the ethics of a robot by just a simple set of rules would never work, as literally all of his stories revolved around the robots breaking one or the other rules. – gaborous Dec 25 '17 at 20:56

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