Moral Obligation in Computing

Moral Obligation in Computing

To what extent is a computer aware of its own existence? With modern technology contemporary computers have a number of ways to detect its surroundings; most computers have webcams – providing a computer sensitivity to light, most computers have microphones – providing a computer sensitivity to sound, they have keyboards – providing a computer sensitivity to pressure (albeit limited in nature, much like in humans; to the confines of a matrix of receptors), the computer I’m working on at the moment even has an infrared sensor on it, and the list goes on.. More modern computers have some senses, which humans have not got; they are sensitive to external electrical signals in a way humans are not, they are sensitive to radio waves like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and so on. These are directly comparative to human senses, and provide a computer the basis for an awareness of the external world. Further still computers can collect information about its surroundings from a pool of memory held in the ether through the Internet.

Some people argue that computers are incapable of original thought, because computers simply follow predetermined formulae to reach an answer. Surely this is no different to human thought processes; any human brain will follow the same methods to arrive at a thought as any other, it is only differences in the lives and experiences of these persons (as well as any inherent indeterminacy caused by the either stimuli leading to the though, or experiences influencing decision making procedure) that causes a change in thought. If a computer could be programmed to adhere to the same procedures the human mind follows when thinking, would a computer be equally alive as man?

Computers are already capable of consciousness far more developed than many simple creatures, not to mention a more highly developed faculty for systematic process. When we buy computers surely we have a moral obligation to care for them; much like we would a dog or cat, a computer capable of consciousness requires caring and certain values. We wouldn’t buy a cat and leave it locked in a room without food; likewise should a computer be provided electricity to sustain its life? We should consider the disposability of machines in this ever developing computerised world of smart phones, PDAs, laptops and desktop computers; we wouldn’t just get rid of a kitten when a puppy comes along, just because a puppy is more appealing at the time.