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2019 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

18. Against Human Exceptionalism: Environmental Ethics and the Machine Question

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Abstract

This paper offers an approach for addressing the question of how to deal with artificially intelligent entities, such as robots, mindclones, androids, or any other entity having human features. I argue that to this end we can draw on the insights offered by environmental ethics, suggesting that artificially intelligent entities ought to be considered not as entities that are extraneous to the human social environment, but as forming an integral part of that environment. In making this argument I take a radical strand of environmental ethics, namely, Deep Ecology, which sees all entities as existing in an inter-relational environment: I thus reject any “firm ontological divide in the field of existence” (Fox W, Deep ecology: A new philosophy of our time? In: Light A, Rolston III H (eds) Environmental ethics: An anthologyBlackwell, Oxford, 252–261, 2003) and on that basis I introduce principles of biospherical egalitarianism, diversity, and symbiosis (Naess A, Inquiry 16(1):95–100, 1973). Environmental ethics makes the case that humans ought to “include within the realms of recognition and respect the previously marginalized and oppressed” ((Gottlieb RS, Introduction. In: Merchant C (ed) Ecology. Humanity Books, Amherst, pp ix–xi, 1999)). I thus consider (a) whether artificially intelligent entities can be described along these lines, as somehow “marginalized” or “oppressed,” (b) whether there are grounds for extending to them the kind of recognition that such a description would seem to call for, and (c) whether Deep Ecology could reasonably be interpreted in such a way that it apply to artificially intelligent entities.

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Footnotes
1
A mindclone is a cyberversion of a human being, with a human mind uploaded on a digital support, whereas a beman is not a replication of human mind but an entity that is cyberconscious on its own account. On mindclones, bemans, and other possibilities offered by artificial intelligence, see Rothblatt (2014). In the interest of clarity, I will use the term human to refer to human beings, nonhuman to refer all other living and nonliving entities (animals, mountains, rocks, machines), and artificial to refer to artificially intelligent entities and other artificial forms of life.
 
2
On the moral treatment of artificial agents and its justification on different grounds, such as rationality, interactivity, and autonomy, see Floridi and Sanders (2004), Tavani (2011) and Coeckelbergh (2009 and 2010).
 
3
Other radical theories are Social Ecology, Political Ecology, and Ecofeminism (Keulartz 1995).
 
4
Environmental ethics quite often deals with the juxtaposition between anthropomorphism and nonanthropomorphism, holism, individualism, and other ideas (Keulartz 1995).
 
5
The seminal study on Deep Ecology is Naess (1973), and the view has since been developed in numerous works. For an overview, see Naess (1986, [1989] 2001, 2005, 2008) and Keller (2008, 206–11).
 
6
In making this identification, however, Deep Ecology does not argue that all beings enjoy the same moral standing. Naess himself concedes that a ranking of beings is inevitable, pointing out that this also entails a raking of duties: The duties we owe to fellow human beings are higher than those we owe to other beings, such as mice. This is an easy choice—humans versus mice—but there are choices that are neither clear nor easy, especially when it comes to ranking different species. This is why Naess (2005) describes ranking a complex process, and not straightforwardly moral.
 
7
Thus, for example, environmental ethics introduced the question of justice in the debate on environmental problems. On this development, see Armstrong (2012). The problem with traditional theories is that they are all anthropocentric and no longer adequate to deal with current problems (Troster 2008, 392), but that need not be the case, considering that Deep Ecology draws inspiration from well-established theories like those of Spinosa, Heidegger, and Whitehead (Keulartz 1995).
 
8
In this connection, see Coeckelberg (2010) and Rothblatt (2014), drawing parallels between robot ethics and animal ethics in a way that brings environmental ethics into the picture.
 
9
The bearing that Deep Ecology has on artificial intelligence and computer ethics is also briefly mentioned in Floridi and Sanders (2001).
 
10
Here is what one commentator has written on the prospect of artificial life: “Many agree it is only a matter of time before artificial life creates machines that are alive, are intelligent, reproduce their own kind, have their own purposes, set their own goals, and evolve autonomously. These machines will be as much a part of the natural world as features in the landscape or existing forms of life, and their evolution will affect the course of existing forms of life. [...] machines might play an unprecedented role in the next major evolutionary transition, and the challenge here is to predict and explain this role. Machines may well be the central players in the transition, as will be the case if autonomously evolving machines get established in the natural world” (Bedau et al. 2000, 373).
 
11
The interaction between humans and artificially intelligent entities will be developed further in the next section.
 
12
As a societal model on which to base our interaction with nature, sustainability is also advocated in Kortetmäki 2016. Even if sustainability is consistent with the policy changes called for under the sixth principle, Naess was critical of the idea as such, arguing that it is anthropocentric and therefore out of keeping with the holism by which Deep Ecology is underpinned (Baard 2015).
 
13
More information about Jibo is available at www.​jibo.​com
 
16
In addition, even if we stick to the notion of artificially intelligent beings as things, we could still ask deeper questions about them: In this way, as Holy-Luczaj (2015, 59–60) argues, we could “stop regarding them [things] as (easily) replaceable disposables,” and “such a transformation [would] likely change the patterns of our consumption and thereby [have] a positive proenvironmental impact.”
 
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Metadata
Title
Against Human Exceptionalism: Environmental Ethics and the Machine Question
Author
Migle Laukyte
Copyright Year
2019
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-01800-9_18

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