Some Ethical Aspects of Agency Machines Based on Artificial Intelligence

Francesco Amigoni, Viola Schiaffonati and Marco Somalvico


The growing impact of computer science on human society stimulates several ethical considerations that are enriched and enhanced when we refer to a powerful and flexible machine, called agency [6], developed within artificial intelligence. An agency [4] is a machine composed of several cooperating inferential entities called agents, which are computer or robots. Agents are integrated in a communication network that represents the topology of agency. The purpose of this paper is to present some innovative ethical observations that arise from the adoption of agencies in the conceptual framework that conceives man as a bipolar subject [2]. More precisely, we consider, according to Bergson approach [5], the intellectual and interactive (with the world external to human mind) human activities as composed of creative activities, which can not be modelled nor emulated by any machine, and of fabricative activities, which can be modelled and emulated by information machines. In this epistemological position, we consider an agent as an information machine that roughly emulates the fabricative intellectual activities of a man, when the agent is a computer, or that roughly emulates the fabricative intellectual and interactive activities of a man, when the agent is a robot. Therefore, an agency emulates the cooperation phenomena that happen in a society of men. For this reason, we denote agency as cooperation machine. We conceive a man as a man-mind subject composed of two poles: man-body pole and man-machine pole. Man-body pole is the natural site of man’s body in which man immediately (without any medium) carries on both creative and fabricative activities. Man-machine pole is the artificial site of machine (made and made to perform by man) in which man mediately (with a medium) carries on fabricative activities.

The first ethical consideration that the bipolar condition of man stimulates is centered on the concept of culture, which is expressed by man-machine pole. In fact, every machine reflects human culture, since a machine is the result of the whole history of science and technology and of the efforts of contemporary men who work together in order to develop better and better artifacts. Moreover, when the machine is an agency, we can say that it represents human culture, because it roughly emulates a society of men, each one roughly emulated by an agent. Hence, human culture permeates every man, since man-machine pole is the result of human culture and, in the case of agency, it also represents human culture. We call universality the ethical property that expresses the pervasive dissemination of culture within the man-mind subject, not only abstractly within man-body pole, but also concretely within man-machine pole.

The second ethical consideration, called equality, can be introduced by observing the double role that an agent can play due to the particular nature of agency. A single agent can describe both the product and the producer of culture and, in particular, of scientific knowledge. In fact, as we have seen, agency represents the culture of several men (each one associated with an agent) when it describes, as a flexible and renewable machine, the product of human culture. In this case, it is called Product Dynamic Agency (PDA). Moreover, agency enhances each single bipolar man-mind subject, when he acts as producer of culture. In fact, agency, as man-machine pole, is the practical support for man in performing fabricative intellectual activities and, in this case, it is called Site Dynamic Agency (SDA). The ability of agency to describe both the product and the producer of culture [1] is called duality function and envisages the ethical concept of equality. In fact, it is equal to use an agent to describe the product of culture or the producer of culture, and, in general, to address different pragmatic goals.

The third ethical consideration involves solidarity that is centered on the circular nature of culture. We call circularity property [1] the synergic integration between the agency that represents the product of culture, namely PDA, and the agency that represents the producer of culture, namely SDA. This property is encountered when a “strongly flexible” agency, like dynamic agency [3], is adopted as man-machine pole. Circularity property clearly expresses the synergic and solidaristic interconnection between agents (each one roughly emulating a man) that play, in sequence, the roles of service and server.

A last ethical concept, called freedom, is envisaged by the adoption of dynamic agencies. Freedom is related to the bivalent nature of man who, when he interacts with a dynamic agency, can be considered from two different perspectives. A single man can be seen both as the user of dynamic agency and as the designer of the dynamic agency he uses. This is related to the particular nature of dynamic agency that can be automatically built by starting from a formalized initial exigency expressed by the user. Thus, by adopting dynamic agencies, man is free to design, develop, build and use machines that address the solutions of his needs.

Our conceptual perspective, in which machines (information machine, agency, dynamic agency), human dichotomies (bipolar condition, duality function, circularity property, bivalent nature), and ethical aspects (universality, equality, solidarity, freedom) are integrated, is summarized in a scheme called anthroparadigmatic tetrahedron.


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  5. H. Bergson. Creative Evolution. University Press of America, 1984.
  6. M. Minsky. The Society of Mind. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985.