Asee peer logo

Towards An Understanding Of Artificial Intelligence And Its Application To Ethics

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics III

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1294.1 - 13.1294.10

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

William Birmingham Grove City College

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Towards an Understanding of Artificial Intelligence and Its Application to Ethics

1. Introduction

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a broadly defined discipline involving computer science, engineering, philosophy, psychology, political science, and a host of other disciplines. Because AI is so broad, it is hard to succinctly define; for the sake of brevity, we will use the handle of “thinking machines,” without commitment to depths of this thinking.

The machines that AI researchers develop are unlike any machines ever built in history. Before AI, machines were constructed only as a mean to perform work. Machines were mostly built to save labor, entertain, or measure things. While classic literature has stories of machines (Pinocchio) or statues (Pygmalion) coming to life, the scientific and technical communities did not, until recently, believe there was any real possibility of such a thinking or acting machine. The technological breakthroughs of cheap, easy-to-use, large-scale artificial memory and computation radically changed the conception of what machines were capable of doing. In a landmark paper, Turing challenged the scientific and technical communities to create machines that could make humans believe they were interacting with another machine.2 That is, Turing desired machines that could think and act similar to a human being, i.e., artificial, non-organic, non-evolved human-like machines. Thus, the idea that a machine could have the distinctly human abilities of thinking and self-reflection entered the scientific and engineering realms.

In some way, the AI enterprise can be considered a response to Turing's challenge, where engineers are developing ever more powerful thinking machines, eventually leading to machines that some might believe are indistinguishable from humans. The creation of more complex artificial agents inevitably leads to a question of what constitutes humanness, which in many AI circles is, by and large, rooted in a view that is materialistic and purely rationalistic.6 The nearly uniformly held position of AI researchers is that once we have created the proper rational superintelligent machine, scientists and engineers will have fulfilled the goals of AI.

The philosophical discussion in AI centers on the functionality (computation and memory) needed to get the right kind of rational thinking machine that will necessarily yield human (-like) machines. The position held by many is that it is simply a matter of time until we hit upon the

Birmingham, W. (2008, June), Towards An Understanding Of Artificial Intelligence And Its Application To Ethics Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015