Truly Autonomous Machines Are Ethical

  • John Hooker Carnegie Mellon University
  • Tae Wan Kim Carnegie Mellon University


There is widespread concern that as machines move toward greater autonomy, they may become a law unto themselves and turn against us. Yet the threat lies more in how we conceive of an autonomous machine rather than the machine itself. We tend to see an autonomous agent as one that sets its own agenda, free from external constraints, including ethical constraints. A deeper and more adequate understanding of autonomy has evolved in the philosophical literature, specifically in deontological ethics. It teaches that ethics is an internal, not an external, constraint on autonomy, and that a truly autonomous agent must be ethical. It tells us how we can protect ourselves from smart machines by making sure they are truly autonomous rather than simply beyond human control.

How to Cite
Hooker, J., & Kim, T. W. (2019). Truly Autonomous Machines Are Ethical. AI Magazine, 40(4), 66-73.