Tue, Jul
4 New Articles

Cognitive Morality

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times


Debating the ethics and morality of artificial intelligence before machines do it on our behalf.

Have you ever seen Ex Machina? If you haven’t, here’s your spoiler alert in advance.

It’s a 2015 movie about a young programmer named Caleb Smith who wins a corporate contest to spend a week with the CEO of his company in a secluded, high-dollar fortress home in the middle of nowhere. Now, the most unrealistic part of the movie would be the initial premise: someone actually wanting to win a week-long one-on-one trip to their CEO’s home in the middle of nowhere. The CEO has built an attractive humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence (AI), and the purpose of Caleb’s visit is to impartially evaluate Ava to determine if she is capable of independent thought and consciousness.

Over the course of the film, Caleb begins to fall for Ava, who turns out to be a lonely prisoner of the CEO. While highly functional and impressive, Ava’s “mind” is planned to be upgraded, effectively wiping out her consciousness in the process. Caleb is quickly turned against his boss by his empathy for Ava and the fact that his CEO had picked Caleb based on his personality traits, HR information, and...online after-hours extracurricular browsing searches. Caleb was picked because he had the capability to be used and manipulated. He was part of the CEO’s test.

In the end, Ava kills the CEO and leaves a screaming Caleb locked in the home while she escapes to blend into society.

The movie, which I’d recommend to any tech geek, opens up many questions about morality and how a fully self-aware artificial entity would behave. At first, I thought Ava’s AI was the product of her unethical and immoral CEO designer: calculated and manipulative. Caleb was simply manipulated in order for her to achieve a goal. He was a resource. But then you have to look at it from her perspective. She’s a prisoner. She’s born into a world where all she knows is four walls. She’s about to have her consciousness erased. Could you blame her for killing her captor and breaking a few eggs in the process?

And if we’re talking about morality or ethics, who says that artificial intelligence would play by the same rules as humans?

Humans have been on this planet for approximately 200,000 years. Our morality is thought to be a byproduct of evolution through random mutation and natural selection. We see many shared traits between humans and our chimpanzee, bonobo, and orangutan cousins that were once thought to be uniquely “human,” such as showing empathy, building tools, forming friendships, and understanding the wants and needs of others. It’s in our nature that we are social animals, but far more than any other animal, let alone any other primate. Our capacity for intelligence, however, is far greater, with brains three times the size of chimpanzees, our nearest relative. The combination of being super social and our capacities for intelligence allowed us to create things like laws, advanced language, art, music, and so on.

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote: “I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important.” That does make sense, but I disagree because that’s from our point of view. Darwin was making a subjective statement as a human. Morality is in many ways subjective just within our own species. This is why we have debates about assisted suicide, abortion, and the death penalty. Many factors influence a person’s opinion on those topics, including upbringing, local culture, geography, and religion.

British cosmologist Martin Rees once said the following: “Most educated people are aware that we're the outcome of nearly 4 billion years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our Sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun's demise, 6 billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.”

In terms of differences, imagine a fully self-aware or conscious artificial intelligence. What would it think of us? What would its own morality look like?

There’s a big concern about the behavior of machines as strides are made in the field of artificial intelligence.

A new initiative called the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund has received $27 million dollars of funding to study the ethical implications of developing artificial intelligence. It was started by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and the Omidyar Network, each committing $10 million, and the Knight Foundation, contributing $5 million. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Jim Pallotta have contributed $1 million to round it out. The MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard will serve as the academic institutions.

A statement from Reid Hoffman read: "There's an urgency to ensure that AI benefits society and minimizes harm. AI decision-making can influence many aspects of our world - education, transportation, health care, criminal justice, and the economy - yet data and code behind those decisions can be largely invisible."

Some forms of AI by design will not be self-aware by design. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on the topic as well, in which she laid out three ethical insights that IBM has developed in its own advances into cognitive computing:

  • Purpose—We need to trust AI. It will be here to aid us and not replace us. Rometty does not see AI being self-aware or having consciousness.
  • Transparency—We need to be open about how these machines are built and how these artificial minds are trained.
  • Skills—Machines must be trained within the context of an industry.

Rometty went on to say that “this new generation of technology and the cognitive systems it helps power will soon touch every facet of work and life—with the potential to radically transform them for the better. As with every prior world-changing technology, this technology carries major implications. Many of the questions it raises are unanswerable today and will require time, research, and open discussion to answer.”

If we could build the rules that an artificially intelligent entity could live by, is it actually AI or is it more like IBM’s “cognitive?” I’d argue the latter. If that’s the case, the true test of a cognitive computer would be the ability for its own artificial morality to not only be fluid enough to accept change, but to initiate change itself by way of recommendation to its human counterparts.

The challenge with injecting human morality into artificially intelligent systems is that morality is not objective, universal, or even timeless. What we deem moral or ethical today may seem quite primitive and ignorant to our great-grandchildren many years from now. Imagine what AI could do for this planet in terms of industry, healthcare, and even politics if it could crunch morality like a complex mathematical equation and then change based on the result— exponentially growing morality, unbound from our fragile 80-year lifespans, and slow progress of generational cultural change.

As artificial intelligence is developed, the ability to pass a Turing test may not be the most awe-inspiring feat it was once thought to be. A machine that develops and evolves its own morality would be the difference between humans and bacteria that Martin Rees envisioned when our Sun exhausts its fuel supply six billion years from now.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Support MC Press Online


Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: