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A Dangerous Master

Moral Machines

A Dangerous Master

How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control

June 2015
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We live in an age where a machine can target, shoot, and kill without the physical involvement of a human; guns can be printed in private homes; and supercomputers can conduct thousands of financial trades in milliseconds. From combat drones to nanotechnology, 3-D printers to synthetic organisms, our most recent inventions increasingly defy the norms for acceptable uses of technology. How do we regulate trades performed by an algorithm? Who should be held accountable when machines pull the trigger and kill people? What responsibility do we, as creators and users, have for the technologies we build?

In A Dangerous Master, ethicist Wendell Wallach tackles such difficult questions in a thoughtful reconsideration of our technological future. No doubt that scientific research and technological innovation are a source of promise and productivity, but there is also widespread concern that technological development is a juggernaut beyond human control. Wallach asks, in addition to the tasks individual technologies are developed for, what damage can they do, and what will it take to control them?

A Dangerous Master provides a entertaining primer on the emerging technologies with a little science, history, discussion of benefits, and special attention to the societal impact and risks posed by innovative tools and techniques. We are in the midst of a veritable Techstorm of new possibilities, all of which are being developed simultaneously.  While other books and news headline focus upon specific discoveries and innovations, A Dangerous Master presents a comprehensive overview of the societal impact of so many different means to alter human live, our society, our economy, and our environment.  Among the challenges are radical life extension, technological unemployment, an arms race to produce autonomous robotic weapons, driverless cars, synthetic organisms, new methods to produce energy, and devices and drugs that enhance human capabilities. We may be on a path towards inventing the human species, as we have known it, out of existence.

Examining the players, institutions, and values that stand in the way of the regulation of everything from autonomous robots to designer drugs, A Dangerous Master proposes solutions for regaining control of our technological destiny. Wallach’s nuanced study offers both stark warnings and hope, navigating the middle ground between speculative fears about a dystopian future and the hype surrounding technological innovations. An engaging, accessible, and masterful analysis of the forces we must manage in our quest to survive as a species, A Dangerous Master forces us to confront the practical—and moral—purposes of our creations.