ET1: Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence - New Questions for Legislation and Applied Ethics


This lecture will deal with ethical problems of VR technology and AI research, but will also draw attention to possible cultural consequences and the psychosocial follow-up costs.
In the first part, I will look at some new developments in the field of virtual reality and very briefly present a code of ethics, which I developed together with my colleague Michael Madary. New technical procedures emerge in which a human being not only controls the movements of an avatar in a virtual reality or a real robot, but also increasingly uses them for perception and begins to identify with them in an experiential way. „Virtual Embodiment“ and „Robotic Re-Embodiment“ refer to new technologies in which humans not only control the movements of a physical robot or an avatar in virtual reality, but in which they increasingly use them as tools for perception and social interaction, beginning to identify with surrogate bodies. This process is already partially realized by brain-machine interfaces, with which an operator or subject controls the avatar "directly with her own mind". What are ethical and cultural implications of introducing such technologies into societal practice?
In the second part of the lecture, I will discuss the current debate on potential risks of AI research. Artificial intelligence and ever more complex algorithms influence our life and civilization more than ever, there are many new issues for applied ethics, for example, value alignment, military applications, accelerated societal stratification, or synthetic phenomenology. Technological progress presents us with historically novel ethical challenges and different stakeholders compete, having different interests and motives. Much of this still sounds like science fiction today - but from a strictly rational, philosophical perspective it is clear that high potential damage levels are to be taken seriously even if their associated probability of occurrence is low. I will also raise the question of whether it might make sense to increasingly implement moral cognition itself in artificial systems. Artificial moral reasoners obviously would not suffer from any cognitive biases, they would maximize the impartiality and rationality of ethical judgments, in complex normative task-domains they would certainly operate with much higher speed than humans, and they could integrate a much larger data-base as empirical premises into their ethical decisions than biological brains ever could. At what point would we accept the epistemic authority of ethical AI, for example, if “reflexively” applied to the ethics of VR and AI itself?





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Instructor information.

Thomas Metzinger


Thomas Metzinger (*1958 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and an Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study (FIAS). He is also Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit in Mainz and Director of the MIND Group at the FIAS. Metzinger is past president of the German Cognitive Science Society (2005-2007) and of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (2009-2011). His focus of research lies in analytical philosophy of mind and cognitive science, as well as in connections between ethics, philosophy of mind and anthropology; he received several awards and Fellowships (see below), the last one being a 5-year GRC Fellowship by the Gutenberg Research College (2014-2019). In the English language, he has edited two collections on consciousness (“Conscious Experience”, Paderborn: mentis & Thorverton, UK: Imprint Academic, 1995; “Neural Correlates of Consciousness”, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000) and published one major scientific monograph developing a comprehensive, interdisciplinary theory about consciousness, the phenomenal self, and the first-person perspective (“Being No One – The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity”, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003). In 2009, he published a popular book, which addresses a wider audience and discusses the ethical, cultural and social consequences of consciousness research (“The Ego Tunnel – The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self”, New York: Basic Books). A revised and greatly expanded German edition has appeared in 2014, which is now also translated in other languages like Russian, Chinese, Polish, Spanish etc. An important recent Open Access collection (2015) is Open MIND at, see also (2017) for a follow-up.