From Binary Deontics to Deontic Continua

The Nature of Human (and Robot) Norm Systems

Bertram F. Malle, Brown University, USA

To make artificial autonomous agents safe and beneficial contributors to society we may strive to equip them with norms. Previous models of what norms are and how they could be formalized have typically relied on binary deontic concepts (forbidden or not, obligatory or not, etc.). But human norms may not come as binaries; they may come as continua. In two studies, we show that people consistently and consensually distinguish between deontic phrases that span degrees of prohibition and degrees of prescription. In light of these results, formal systems for norms in robots must be expressive enough to handle such deontic continua.