The Internet of Ethical Things?
Created by Simone Rebaudengo and Matthieu Cherubini, Ethical Things is a project that explores the effects of autonomous systems of the future as they head increasingly towards complex algorithms aimed at solving situations requiring some form of moral reasoning. The Makers speculate how these algorithms may not only be concerned with decisions we can’t solve, but more so, what happens to the mundane and insignificant objects that occupy everyday lives?
“Soon, ‘smart’ objects might also need to have moral capacities as ‘they know too much’ about their surroundings to take a neutral stance. Indeed, with fields such as home automation, ambient intelligence or the Internet of Things, objects of our everyday lives will have more and more access to a multitude of data about ourselves and our environment,” the duo writes.
Even when faced with as simple situations, the level of complexity of products cannot accommodate all parties. The system will be designed to take into account certain inputs, to process a ‘certain’ type of information under a ‘certain’ kind of logic. Take a smart coffeemaker who knows about its user’s heart problems, for example, should it accept giving him a coffee when he requests one?
The Makers ask, “How are these ‘certainties’ defined, and by whom? How are these autonomous systems going to be able to solve problems without objective answers? And, moreover, as the nature of ethics is very subjective, how will machines be able to deal with the variety of profiles, beliefs, and cultures?”
Ethical Objects looks at how an autonomous fan, when faced with an ethical dilemma, can keep a dose of humanity in its final decision while being flexible enough to accommodate various ethical beliefs. In an effort to demonstrate this, the so-called “ethical fan” connects to a crowdsourcing site each time it is dealt with a quandary. It then posts the dilemma it’s facing and awaits the help of one of the “workers,” or “mechanical turks,” who will tell the fan how to behave. Thus, it assures that the decision executed by the system is the fruit of real human moral reasoning.
In addition, the fan is designed to allow the user set various traits, ranging from religion and degree to sex and age, as criterion to choose the worker who should respond to the dilemma, in order to assure that a part of the user’s culture and belief system is in line with the worker, or ethical agent. The project is powered by an Arduino Yún (ATmega32U4) using Python, PHP, and jQuery. Furthermore, a real-time map on the Makers’ website offers an excerpt of dilemmas faced by two fans in varying locations as well as its answers.
Faced with a complex decision? Ask the fan. Head over to the project’s official page here, and watch it in action below.