The Intersection of Moral Duty and Artificial Intelligence

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Apr 12, 2024

3 min read


The Intersection of Moral Duty and Artificial Intelligence


In a world where moral judgments and the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) converge, the question arises: "Is it the intention or the result that matters?" How can we evaluate moral duty and what criteria should be used? While some argue that virtue lies in intention alone, others contend that morality cannot disregard the consequences of our actions. In exploring these viewpoints, we find parallels between the evaluation of moral duty and the workings of AI minds.

I. Virtue Lies in Intention:

1. Disinterested Duty:

According to Kant, if duty is disinterested, the result becomes inconsequential. For instance, if my duty is to rescue someone drowning, I must make every effort to save them. Even if I fail due to external factors, I can still consider myself virtuous. However, it is crucial that genuine effort accompanies intention; otherwise, we remain content with good intentions but take no action.

II. Virtue Lies in Consequences:

1. Hegel's Objective Ethics:

Hegel argues that duty must be judged based on objective results. Freedom must manifest in history rather than remain solely subjective and internal. Intention alone is insufficient if it does not employ the means to succeed. Duty sometimes necessitates getting one's hands dirty by considering external realities, where the ends may justify the means.

2. Utilitarianism:

Good intentions can lead to catastrophic outcomes, while seemingly dishonest intentions can yield positive results. For example, a trafficker who enriches their country economically may, at some level, be doing good. The moral value of an action depends on its utility. Consequentialist doctrines evaluate the morality of an act based on its consequences.

III. Understanding AI Minds:

As we delve into the workings of AI minds, we discover commonalities with the evaluation of moral duty.

1. Diversity of AI:

The AI landscape consists of numerous AIs, each with varying capabilities. These AIs can generate images, music, text, and even videos. Some specialize in classification, while others focus on generative tasks. Just as moral judgments differ, AI capabilities are not uniform.

2. Architectural Structure:

Generative text AIs possess billions of artificial neurons, forming what is known as a transformer architecture. These AIs are essentially mathematical functions. Instead of a simple function like f(x) = x^2, they operate on thousands of variables to produce thousands of possible outputs. This structural complexity mirrors the nuanced evaluation of moral duty.

3. Token-based Processing:

AI models understand sentences by breaking them down into tokens, which are then converted into numerical representations for processing. These models predict the next token based on the previous ones, pausing to deliberate on what the subsequent token should be. Similarly, moral judgments consider past actions and intentions to determine the next course of action.

4. Simultaneous Information Processing:

Unlike humans who read sequentially, AI models examine all tokens simultaneously. They do not follow a linear left-to-right or right-to-left reading pattern. This parallel processing mirrors the ability to consider multiple factors simultaneously when evaluating moral duty.


In the intersection of moral duty and artificial intelligence, we find both parallels and distinctions. The importance of intention versus consequences in moral judgments aligns with the diverse capabilities and architectural structures of AI minds. While AI models are not truly thinking or possessing biological neurons, their mathematical functions mirror the complexities of moral evaluation. As we navigate this convergence, it is essential to consider both intention and consequences in moral decision-making.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Reflect on the importance of intention and the potential consequences of your actions before making moral judgments or decisions.
  • 2. Embrace a holistic approach by considering the objective results of your actions, rather than solely focusing on your intentions.
  • 3. Continuously educate yourself about the capabilities and limitations of AI to make informed decisions regarding its use and impact on society.

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