Call: Assessing Agency, Moral and Otherwise: Beyond the Machine Question (part of AISB 2018)

Call for papers

Assessing Agency, Moral and Otherwise: Beyond the Machine Question
Part of the AISB Annual Convention 2018

University of Liverpool, UK
4-6 April 2018

The convention is organized by the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB).

The deadline for submissions is 14 January.

Submission details
Program committee
Easy Chair page (

Robotization and other forms of automation increasingly find themselves among the most-heard buzz words throughout the manufacturing sector and beyond. Beyond the mundane assembly-line robots, one hears about self-driving cars, “killer” battlefield robots, sex robots, prototype care robots. Laypersons and researchers alike talk about the more sophisticated examples in a way that appears to ascribe them agency and, in some cases, stops little short of personhood: describing them as having feelings, weighing choices, making decisions wrong and right. How much is hype and how much substance? To what extent are people speaking metaphorically – and aware of doing so – to what extent do they really mean what they are saying? Are existing artefacts – or, if not, can potential future artefacts be – agents in any substantial sense? Can they be moral agents, capable of making moral decisions and being held responsible for the consequences? Most importantly, how do the answers to these questions shape our ethical interactions with machines that, in some important ways at least, remind us of ourselves? How do they inform our assignments of moral responsibility?

This symposium takes as its starting point that questions of artefactual agency and machine ethics are red herrings. What matters is what qualifies any purported agent as an agent and what qualifies certain agents – whatever their origins – as moral agents.

This symposium welcomes submissions that address such questions as:

  • What does it mean to be an agent? Are there different kinds of agency?
  • Are we outsourcing human agency to artefacts in appropriate or inappropriate ways? What about outsourcing of responsibility?
  • Are existing artefacts agents? If not, what about future artefacts? How does one decide?
  • Are existing artefacts moral agents? What about future artefacts? Who gets to decide?
  • If existing artefacts are not moral agents (as for example newborn infants are generally not considered to be moral agents), which of them are moral patients: i.e., which of them have moral standing? Which of them must one take particular care to treat in a morally acceptable way?
  • If artefacts are or can be agents, then how does their agency interact with ours? Where and how do questions of control come in?
  • Does agency require or presuppose:
    • Life?
    • Consciousness?
    • Cognition?
    • Reflective self-conscious awareness?
  • How much do we want our artefacts to be agents?
  • What is the relation between agency and personhood?
  • What lessons can we learn from discussions of agency and personhood in non-human animals?
  • Do we need to be talking about rights for artefactual agents?
  • What changes, if any, do we need either to be making or contemplating to our existing legal and ethical frameworks?

The symposium welcomes submissions of full papers, up to five thousand words, accompanied by an abstract of up to 300 words. Poster presentations are not specifically sought for but will be considered.

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