Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 24, Issue 3, 2020

Billy Wheeler
Pages 332-356

Reliabilism and the Testimony of Robots

We are becoming increasingly dependent on robots and other forms of artificial intelligence for our beliefs. But how should the knowledge gained from the “say-so” of a robot be classified? Should it be understood as testimonial knowledge, similar to knowledge gained in conversation with another person? Or should it be understood as a form of instrument-based knowledge, such as that gained from a calculator or a sundial? There is more at stake here than terminology, for how we treat objects as sources of knowledge often has important social and legal consequences. In this paper, I argue that at least some robots are capable of testimony. I make my argument by exploring the differences between instruments and testifiers on a well-known account of knowledge: reliabilism. On this approach, I claim that the difference between instruments and testifiers as sources of knowledge is that only the latter are capable of deception. As some robots can be designed to deceive, so they too should be recognized as testimonial sources of knowledge.