Ethical Principles in the Creation of Artificial Minds

Nick Bostrom
(2001. Revised 2005)

Principle 1: Non-discrimination with regard to substrate

Substrate is morally irrelevant. Whether somebody is implemented on silicon or biological tissue, if it does not affect functionality or consciousness, is of no moral significance. Carbon-chauvinism is objectionable on the same grounds as racism.

Principle 2: Actual and potential beings

We differentiate morally between actual and potential beings: the latter do not exist now and will never exist unless we bring them into existence. The interests of existing persons should guide the creation of new beings. We ought not to create new beings that are expected to harm the interests of existing persons. If a potential being becomes actual, it becomes a member of the moral community and its interests should be taken into account. A being can be actual even if it does not currently exist: there is a moral reason not to set up a mechanism today that will harm a being that comes into existence tomorrow.

Principle 3: Life worth living

It is generally unethical to create a person whose life is expected to be not worth living.

Principle 4: Non-discrimination with regard to ontogeny

A being’s moral status is not affected by how it came into existence. The fact that somebody exists as a result of deliberate design does not undermine, reduce, or alter that being’s moral status.

Principle 5. Procreative beneficence

Creators of new beings have a pro tanto moral reason to select to create, of the possible beings they could create, the one that is expected to have the life most worth living. If two possible beings would have the same benefits and disadvantages for the creator and other beings, then the creator ought to create the one with the best life prospect.

Principle 6. Procreator’s responsibility of provisioning

Procreators have a moral responsibility to make fair provisions for their progeny.

Principle 7. Responsibility for progeny’s actions

To the extent that procreators have control over what sort of being they create, they are responsible for that being’s actions. Procreator’s responsibility does not diminish progeny’s responsibility. If a progeny is a competent moral agent, it has full responsibility for its own actions. If a procreator creates a competent moral agent and has control over how this agent turns out, then procreator and progeny have joint responsibility for the progeny’s actions.