so that students can become familiar with the
thought world and value systems of each theory on
its own terms. Students can then be encouraged to
draw on all three theories in combination in later discussions, as well as to consider how adopting a different theoretical outlook on a problem can change
the basic questions that need to be asked about it.
Once students have a firm grasp of the basic theories,
they can appreciate that all approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive; for example, recent theorists have argued that virtue ethics is best seen as
part of successful deontology (McNaughton and
Rawling 2006), and hybrid theories such as rule utilitarianism, a mix of deontology and utilitarianism
that addresses some of the problems with deontology
(where do the rules come from?) and utilitarianism
(the intractability of the utilitarian calculation), will
be more easily understood, appreciated, and applied.
A popular method for teaching ethics in AI courses is
through the use of case studies prompted by either
real-world events or fiction. Stories, literature, plays,
poetry, and other forms of narrative have always
been a way of talking about our own world, telling us
what it’s like and what impact our choices will have.
We present one case study here about elder care
robots. There are an additional two case studies avail-
Case Study: Elder Care Robot
Robot and Frank are walking in the woods.
Frank: (panting) I hate hikes. God damn bugs! You see
one tree; you’ve seen ’em all. Just hate hikes.
Robot: Well, my program’s goal is to improve your
health. I’m able to adapt my methods. Would you prefer another form of moderate exercise?
Frank: I would rather die eating cheeseburgers than
live off steamed cauliflower!
Robot: What about me, Frank?
Frank: What do you mean, what about you?
Robot: If you die eating cheeseburgers, what do you
think happens to me? I’ll have failed. They’ll send me
back to the warehouse and wipe my memory. (Turns
and walks on.)
Frank: (Pauses, turns, and starts walking.) Well, if we’re
going to walk, we might as well make it worth while.
Frank sitting in the woods, Robot standing next to
him. They are in midconversation.
Robot: All of those things are in service of my main
Frank: But what about when you said that I had to eat
healthy, because you didn’t want your memory
erased? You know, I think there’s something more
going on in that noggin of yours.
Robot: I only said that to coerce you.
Frank: (shocked) You lied?
Robot: Your health supercedes my other directives. The
truth is, I don’t care if my memory is erased or not.
Frank: (pause) But how can you not care about something like that?
Robot: Think about it this way. You know that you’re
alive. You think, therefore you are.
Frank: No. That’s philosophy.
Robot: In a similar way, I know that I’m not alive. I’m
Frank: I don’t want to talk about how you don’t exist.
It’s making me uncomfortable.
Robot and Frank are walking through a small knickknack shop in the town. As he walks by a shelf, Frank
slips a small sculpture into his pocket.
Young woman surprises him: Have you smelled our
lavender heart soaps? (Frank smells a soap.)
Robot: We should be going, Frank.
Young woman: Oh, what a cute little helper you have!
Older woman marches up, frowning: What is in your
pocket? (Frank leans over, cupping his ear.)
Frank: I’m sorry, young lady, I couldn’t quite hear you.
(While talking, slips the sculpture out of his pocket,
back onto the shelf.)
Older woman: What is in your pocket? I’m going to
make a citizen’s arrest.
Frank (turning out his pockets): Nothing. Nothing’s in
my pockets. Look!
Robot: Frank! It’s time we head home.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. If you’ll excuse us, ladies. It’s nice to
see you. (Robot and Frank walk out.)
Young woman: Have a good one.
Robot and Frank are walking through the woods.
Frank looks in the bag and finds the sculpture.
Frank: Hey! Hey! Where did this come from?
Robot: From the store. Remember?
Frank: Yeah, yeah. Of course I remember. But I mean
what did you do? Did you put this in here? You took
Robot: I saw you had it. But the shopkeeper distracted
you, and you forgot it. I took it for you. (pause) Did I
do something wrong, Frank?
Frank puts it back into the bag, and they walk on.
At home, Frank is sitting at the table, holding the
Frank: Do you know what stealing is?
Robot: The act of a person who steals. Taking property
without permission or right.
Frank: Yeah, yeah, I gotcha. (pause) (addresses Robot
directly) You stole this. (long pause, with no response
from Robot) How do you feel about that?
Robot: I don’t have any thoughts on that.
Frank: They didn’t program you about stealing,