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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on July 12, 2011
Although this book is accessible to a popular audience, it has obvious academic merit. The authors thoroughly search-out all perspectives in this new field (i.e. it has a huge bibliography) and treat each perspective with skillful fairness. It both establishes itself as the authoritative reference, framing the issues for the new field of machine ethics, and establishes the credibility of the field as an academic pursuit. Good libraries ought to have this book.

This book was not intended as an introduction to ethics, but it is the book I would be inclined to assign as an ethics textbook. It covers an introduction to ethics, of course, but also covers material in related disciplines (psychology, economics, etc.), and gets technical about where our society assumes ethical faculties. It forces the reader to think about how ethics work, rather than just express opinions about contemporary moral issues, and is probably the very best book in existence for giving readers an appreciation for the ways the field of ethics will have to grow in the near future.
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on May 11, 2013
This book is a good summary of the difficulties that await (or are here now) future designers of robots with AI. It may be a little more technical than really needed to explain it's message, but it is a worthy message. I think most of the bases are covered.
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on December 8, 2013
Takes the reader through an intro to ethics and experiments in AI ethics and robotics. It's a relatively new field, stretching to the idea expressed in the title; building machines that make moral decisions and act accordingly. So if you're an programmer looking for a cookbook with a quick start guide, this won't immediately feel like your subject. On the other hand, if you're an engineer looking for the cutting edge, you can find it in this book. If you're a student, researcher, or lone wolf innovator, you might be the one to take the next important step. If you're a software developer or planning to be one, I think you should read this to be prepared for discussions that will inevitably arise during your career.
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on November 4, 2014
This is an outstanding work. the author is dead-on when describing machine ethics as the ultimate di-section of ethical discourse in human terms.
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on November 9, 2008
Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong
We have been in uncharted waters for at least 94 years since 1914.
Some few gifted observers have tried to explain the past, clarify the present, and glimpse the future.
Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen have succeeded in giving us a cautionary and yet hopeful view of a future world that we are likely to be sharing with increasingly intelligent computers and their active agents...robots.
Can we form a reasonably secure community together and, if so, how can we go about achieving it.
Here in this volume in both an entertaining and highly informative manner, Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen have given us the framework for understanding the challenge.
Howard G Iger, MD
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on June 17, 2017
Morality of machines is a topic, but I am more interested in how to use AI, then the moral implications of it. This ok, if you want to argue about whether machines will /should have conscience.
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on February 20, 2009
Wallach and Allen explore ways in which machines might emulate human moral decision making. But human morality is badly flawed and what is really needed is machines which have a morality which surpasses the merely human. (Theories of Value, its Origin, and Value Change, Trans. Kansas Acad. of Science, vol. 109, pg 254, 2006 R. Jones and Asa H: A hierarchical architecture for software agents, Trans. Kansas Acad. of Science, vol. 109, pg 159, 2006 R. Jones) Evolution has imposed on humans and other animals an economic utility (fitness) approximated by U=(N-2)/L where N is the number of offspring a pair of mammals has and L is the animal's lifespan. It is difficult for a creature to decompose this utility U into a judgment about any particular action. In animals evolution has hardwired in a set of heuristics (drives, aversions, etc.) which perform this decomposition (i.e. pain, pleasure, sex drive, hunger, thirst, discomfort, innate fears, sickness, loneliness, curiosity, etc.) Note that all of these produce a much more immediate reward (feedback) than U, N, or L can. It is, however, possible to give artificial intelligences a BETTER value system than this. (see my 2 references cited above and also: An autonomous software agent for industrial process control, Trans. Kansas Acad. of Science, vol. 107, pg 32, 2004 R. Jones)
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on June 28, 2013
I had a very difficult time keeping my eyes open while reading this book, if it had been a professor in a lecture class, it would have been one of those monotone boring ones, who only speak in technical terms and you can't follow. I really can't wait for my class to be over so that I can get rid of this book.
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on August 24, 2013
This book seem to have been infected with the same disease that has ravaged the field of bioethics - the failure to grasp that specialized ethics can only proceed from a general theory of ethics. Without a clear specification of the latter, any attempt to devise ethics for robots, or for physicians, is doomed to incoherence, ambiguity, and confusion. Hence, the main problem with Moral Machines is that it lacks an attempt to reach clarity on human ethics. The book does excel in pointing out the problems with conventional thinking about robot morality, but it fails to describe solutions. The authors' suggestion of having robots acquire morality in the same way that humans do, does not solve the problem. It only guarantees that robots will be as morally confused as we are (e.g. 40% of people would save their dog's life over that of a stranger, according to a recent study at Georgia Regents University). Moreover, this approach fails to select a particular moral tradition in which to raise our robots: Lutheranism? Mormonism? Leftism? Just as we don't want robots to share common confusions about, say, surgical techniques, we don't want them similarly confused about ethics.

This book, which I nonetheless recommend, suffers from the timid, diffident, and tentative tones that afflict most academic writing. The authors seem to be part of an academic community and seek to retain membership by being minimally offensive. Who can fault them? However, this leads to excessively conventional thinking, a disappointing near-term focus, and no real discussion of the morality of hyper-intelligent robots.

If you want a good survey of current thinking on this topic, mundane as this thinking is, this book is a fine choice. If, instead, you prefer attempts to find solutions to the problems addressed in this book I would recommend Artificial Morality: Virtuous Robots for Virtual Games by Peter Danielson, only because it is more concrete. I would also recommend a bold little book called Robot Nation -- Surviving the Greatest Socio-Economic Upheaval of All Time by Stan Neilson, which. despite its title, turns out to be largely about robot morality.
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on September 21, 2012
From a philosophical writer's point of view, this is one of the best-written books I've ever read. And that deserves emphasis. The writers' ingenuity in connecting the thought frameworks from networks of major concepts to another network of major concepts, and from one minor concept, and connecting to the next, or returning to a previous example, is really profound and unusual. I'm tempted to say that this book passes as poetry.

Additionally, I made copious notes and breezed through the book in less than a week. So, as non-fiction goes, yes its readable. It's also more intelligent than the average philosophy book in terms of the brilliance of interpretation and the potential to find "juicy details". Although it is not brilliant everywhere (and few books are, outside of Confucius, the Buddha, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and perhaps Erasmus), there are reflections of brilliant thoughts on nearly every page.

Students of philosophy with an interest in entities, interfaces, and social science conundrums will love this book. I agree with the other reviewers that the significant bibliographic material is a major enhancement of the experience.
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