Building machines with a conscience is a big job, and one that will require the coordinated efforts of philosophers, computer scientists, legislators, and lawyers. And, as Colin Allen, a pioneer in machine ethics put it, “We don’t want to get to the point where we should have had this discussion twenty years ago.” As machines become faster, more intelligent, and more powerful, the need to endow them with a sense of morality becomes more and more urgent.

“Ethical subroutines” may sound like science fiction, but once upon a time, so did self-driving cars.

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