Sparx: Season 2, Episode 6

Focus on machine ethics: Can robots act morally? 

Catrin Misselhorn, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, explains why machines can indeed make moral decisions. And what limits we should nevertheless set for them.

Automated systems are penetrating more and more areas of our everyday lives because – as Catrin Misselhorn, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, says – it is "an old dream of mankind that machines take over activities that are dirty, dangerous or simply unpleasant". However, the more complex the tasks that these machines take on, the more difficult the moral questions that arise.

Consider, for example, a nursing robot that distributes food and medication: should it constantly monitor the user? Or an autonomous vehicle: if the brakes fail and it only has the options of hitting either a group of elderly people or a young woman with children – which should it choose?

All this, however, is preceded by a more fundamental question: are machines even capable of acting morally? Yes, says Misselhorn, at least in a functional way. In her "Sparx" talk, the professor explains what this means and which decisions we should nevertheless not leave to machines.


When it comes to philosophical questions in the field of artificial intelligence or robot and machine ethics, she is the right person to talk to: Prof. Dr Catrin Misselhorn (*1970) has been Professor of Philosophy at the Georg-August University of Göttingen since 2019, before which she held the Chair of Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Stuttgart for seven years. Her two books "Grundfragen der Maschinenethik" (4th edition 2020) and "Künstliche Intelligenz und Empathie. Vom Leben mit Emotionserkennung, Sexrobotern & Co" (2021) are Reclam bestsellers.

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