Intelligent machines, care work and the nature of practical reasoning

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Background: The debate over the ethical implications of care robots has raised a range of concerns, including the possibility that such technologies could disrupt caregiving as a core human moral activity. At the same time, academics in information ethics have argued that we should extend our ideas of moral agency and rights to include intelligent machines. Research objectives: This article explores issues of the moral status and limitations of machines in the context of care. Design: A conceptual argument is developed, through a four-part scheme derived from the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. No empirical data are used. Ethical consideration: No primary data were gathered for this study. Secondary sources and authorship have been acknowledged throughout. Findings / discussion: Certain kinds of social experience, including the narrative unity of a life, and the giving and receiving of care, are essential for moral development. Machines, no matter how advanced, cannot participate in such experiences in key respects, and thus cannot develop as practical reasoners. Conclusion: It follows that they cannot be moral agents and that they cannot care. There are, it seems, no such things as care robots. In view of the institutional power of tech companies and commissioning bodies, care practitioners need to take more of a lead in developing new assistive technologies which are appropriate to their practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1906-1916
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number7-8
Early online date31 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


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