Indian sacred texts and the logic of computer ethics | 1/29/2018 | Staff
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The Indian sacred texts of the Vedas have been studied for millennia. But now, for the first time in history, computer scientists in Vienna analyse them by applying the methods of mathematical logic. This gives Sanskritists new insights and can even settle philosophical disputes which are more than one or two thousand years old. On the other hand, it helps computer scientists to develop reasoning tools to deal with deontic concepts (such as prohibitions and obligations). Such tools are enormously important if we want to implement ethics in artificial intelligence – for instance if a self-driving car has to make ethical decisions in case of an accident.

"The Vedas are a large body of ancient Sanskrit texts, some of which contain very clear moral statements – such as 'one should not harm any living being'", says Agata Ciabattoni from the Institute of Logic and Computation at TU Wien. She is leading the research project, in close collaboration with Elisa Freschi, Sanskritist from the Austrian Academy of Science.

School - India - Centuries - BCE - Mīmāṃsā

There is a philosophical school originated in ancient India in the last centuries BCE, called Mīmāṃsā, which uses a rigorous approach to analyse the obligations and prohibitions mentioned in the Vedas. For many centuries, Mīmāṃsā scholars have formulated rules to draw conclusions from premises and to resolve apparent contradictions. "This is actually closely related with what logicians like us are doing," says Agata Ciabattoni. "We can formalise such rules in a language that can also be understood by computers."

There is, for example, an old dispute about the "Śyena sacrifice," a sacrifice in the Vedas meant to kill one's enemies. How can this be reconciled with the rule not to harm any living being? "For a Hindu, the Vedas are absolutely correct, so there cannot be any contradiction," says Agata Ciabattoni. In the 7th century, Prabhākara,...
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