The Computer Revolution/Artificial Intelligence/Ethics

In the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner, Harrison Ford plays Detective Rick Deckard, whose job is to identify and dispose of escapee "replicants". Replicants are robots that are indentical to humans but have superhuman abilities. They are so advanced, they have many human emotions such as fear, anger, desire, and love; but unlike humans they have been given a predetermined date of expiration. Manufactured for work in a far off planet as laborers under conditions too hostile for humans, as their date of expiration nears, a number of the replicants rebel, escape the work colony, and return to Earth in search of their creator; a scientist who they believe can save them. The machines have uncovered the very human instinct of survival. Needless to say Deckard has a pretty tough assignment ahead of him, which is complicated even more by the fact that he has fallen in love with Rachael, a newer generation of replicant. She is so human like, even she does not realize she is a machine; although she has begun to suspect so. Detective Deckard is able to track down a number of replicants and kill them. Near the end of the film, after an extended slug fest with Roy Batty the leader of the replicants, played by Rutger Hauer, Rick finds himself hanging precipitously off the side of a tall building. At the mercy of his brutal aggressor Deckard finds that the machine has come to learn compassion and him shows mercy. In the final scene Harrison Ford (presumably) gives up replicant hunting to live else where, with the love of his life the replicant woman.

Hollywood has used a similar scenario in other films like Matrix, Terminator, and more recently A.I. The tendency has been to glorify the dark side of human interaction with machine. The sensationalism of Hollywood films notwithstanding, the uses and abuses of machines by humans warrants serious consideration for two compelling reasons:

1 - Advances accredited to humanity
2 - Destruction wrought on humanity

The question of how much intelligence to infuse into a machine is secondary to the question of what kind of intelligence we should allow. Unlike the Hollywood scenario, where machines conveniently absolve themselves of human control and run amok, it's prudent to remember that ultimately as the creators of these machines we are responsible for their behavior. Behind the marvel of a manned shuttle that rockets into outer space to collect data for several years, the surreptitious download of spyware on a computer, the mass production of shoes, clothes, cars, animals ect., or the terrifying destruction of a cluster bomb, lies the question of human ethics.


Ethics is a matter of principles. Some unethical behavior doesn't necessarily mean it is an illegal activity, for example lying to a coworker cannot send anyone to jail but in recent years ethics has become very important when relating it to computers. With technology advancing and growing availability on computer resources has made it quite easy for people to take part in unethical activities. The internet has played a major role in facilitating unethical behavior because it’s easy to spread viruses, spam and spyware with a click of a button. It’s important to make ethical decisions when dealing with copyrighted materials in web-based articles, movies, and with any use available of tools (work or library computers) and customer information.

(Morley, Deborah and Parker, Charles. Understanding Computer: Today and Tomorrow 13th Edition. Course Technology: Boston, MA, 2011)