Thursday, December 23, 2010

Professor Keith Miller studies computer ethics and robots

University of Illinois Springfield Computer Science Professor Keith Miller started his career in software testing, never expecting he’d one day be an internationally recognized authority in computer ethics.

Miller used mathematics to test the probability of computer programs crashing, but kept running into the question “How good is good enough?” He realized mathematics alone couldn’t help answer that question. He needed to apply human values to answer the question and turned to philosophy.

“We want the people who are working on (computer) artifacts to care about the human impact, the consequences of what they do. That, to me, is computer ethics,” said Miller.

Miller was named the Louise Hartman Schewe and Karl Schewe Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2009. He serves as editor of Technology and Society, a journal of “IEEE,” the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology. He also played a major role in the development of an international code of ethics for software engineering.

“I’m dealing with robots and other artificial agents and trying to decide how humans are going to live together with these intelligent beings that aren’t carbon based like us,” said Miller.

He recently attended a conference in Canada with computer manufacturers developing military technology capable of taking a human life.

“There are killer robots,” he said. “Many of them... have the ability to pull the trigger. If we have machines on their own killing people, you can just see the terminator kind of implications”.

Miller says manufacturers have so far been reluctant to let the machines take a shot on their own, but the trend is one of the areas of computer ethics that interests him the most.

“What we’re trying to do in computer ethics is to both educate the general public about how important these issues are and also educate computer professionals and our students about how they can make these decisions more wisely,” he said.

He is also working with a group of colleagues on what's known as e-trust, when humans are interacting with a computer or two computers are talking to each other. His goal is to answer the question “What does trust mean between programs or pieces of software?”

Miller has published numerous journal articles and conference papers on computer ethics.