Re: [wta-talk] Re: On Our Duty to Not Be Responsible for ArtificialMinds

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Tue Aug 09 2005 - 19:55:35 MDT

Eliezer said, "Just because you invent a word does not give it a real
referent nor even a well-defined meaning.
What exactly is "autonomy"? What are these tests that measure it? I
cannot even conceive of such a test."

Mark said, "Uh, I am afraid I cannot take responsibility for making up
the term. It is often explicated in terms of having the ability to
govern one's life in absence from coercion from others."

I imagine it's safe to say Eliezer's use of the word 'you' in "Just
because you invent a word [...]" was intended to be read as "Just
because one invents a word [...]", and not you, personally, Mark.

Nevertheless, you [meaning Mark, not 'one', here] believe 'autonomy'
has a coherent, meaningful referent, which makes Eliezer's questions
reasonable to ask of you. I see you've pointed to the answers others
have offered regarding "What is autonomy?" -- but the common
explication you indicate is clearly not satisfactory. For none can
lives among others can live in -total- absence from coercion. None of
us do, to be sure, yet still you'd call us autonomous. So a certain
degree of coercion is required, not merely the presence of coercion.
But how much? And is it a switch that flips upon pushing past the
limit? A strange metaphysical beast it would be were it so. Perhaps it
is a sliding scale - one has *degrees* of autonomy, does one not? But
then we've lost our definition of autonomy, because we no longer have
a clear determinant of whether or when an agent is autonomous, or any
idea of what effect differing levels of coercion have on this nebulous
property, aside from personal whimsy.

Further, related to another of Eliezer's points, what is coercion if
not causal influence? And, if it is exemplified by one agent exerting
causal influence on another, why should we be more concerned with it
than the non-agent causal influence necessarily exerted in its place
(necessarily, because all our actions are caused, ultimately be
external forces, and the only alternative to agent causation is non-)?

How a term is often explicated isn't worth a damn, if it's often
explicated poorly.

Jeff Medina
Community Director
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Relationships & Community Fellow
Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies
School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

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