Responsible computers? A case for ascribing quasi-responsibility to computers independent of personhood or agency




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Springer Verlag



Peer reviewed


There has been much debate whether computers can be responsible. This question is usually discussed in terms of personhood and personal characteristics, which a computer may or may not possess. If a computer fulfils the conditions required for agency or personhood, then it can be responsible; otherwise not. This paper suggests a different approach. An analysis of the concept of responsibility shows that it is a social construct of ascription which is only viable in certain social contexts and which serves particular social aims. If this is the main aspect of responsibility then the question whether computers can be responsible no longer hinges on the difficult problem of agency but on the possibly simpler question whether responsibility ascriptions to computers can fulfil social goals. The suggested solution to the question whether computers can be subjects of responsibility is the introduction of a new concept, called "quasi-responsibility" which will emphasise the social aim of responsibility ascription and which can be applied to computers.


A question arising from the possibility of artificial agents is whether they can and will be moral agents. This paper suggests a different approach to the question of (moral) responsibility of artificial agents and develops a theory of reflective responsibility to address the question of when and under which conditions agents can be held responsible. The argument will contribute to the ongoing debate on how agents are to be treated legally and ethically. The paper was published in an invitation-only special issue of Ethics & IT, the leading journal in the field, edited by the Oxford Information Ethics Group.


RAE 2008, UoA 23 Computer Science and Informatics, computer, responsibility, quasi-responsibility, personality, agency ascription


Stahl, B.C. (2006) Responsible Computers? A Case for Ascribing Quasi-Responsibility to Computers Independent of Personhood or Agency. Ethics and Information Technology, 8(4), pp.205-213.


Research Institute

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR)