A native New Yorker, Danielson studied philosophy at Univ. of Michigan, Princeton, and University of Toronto, with a focus on political philosophy, ethics, game theory, and cognitive science. Having taught Philosophy and Computer Science at York Univ, Danielson came to UBC in 1990 as one of two founding faculty of the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics. Through a generous donation from the Young family, he became the Mary and Mary Young Professor of Applied Ethics in 2001 and Director of the Centre in 2002.  With Michael Burgess, he lead the successor to the Genome Canada funded project, Democracy, Ethics, and Genomics; his research group focused on computer mediated communication and social networking to advance survey methods in applied ethics. 2009 – 2015  he taught a core course in UBC’s Cognitive Systems programme, bring a new focus on the ethics of robotics and AI as well as the neuro- and social scientific basis of ethics in people and machines. He continues this research and public outreach as a Professor Emeritus in the Centre.


Danielson’s research program of Artificial Morality builds game theoretic and computational (agent-based, evolutionary) models of more or less ethical agents — agents like us, our dogs, robots, and institutions.  The results are cautionary: we should not expect too much from ethical theory, based as it is on the weak methods of philosophy. Looking instead to game theory, evolutionary biology, behavioral economics, and computational sociology, we should treat our social and psychological moral capabilities realistically: we are weak-willed nepotists who need help making ourselves and communities better through feasible social contracts.

Danielson’s applied research trys to overcome some of these constraints, by constructing computational spaces to support democratic decision making in ethics. He leads the NReasons research group, which is conducting experimental public participation evaluations of technologies ranging from biobanks to elder care robots as well as life extension and animal welfare. His recent work focuses on the unexpected limits of and costs of ethics in the case of the emerging technologies of robots and AI, as well as the ethics of aging.


Selected Recent

Danielson, P. (2015) Surprising judgments about robot drivers: Experiments on rising expectations and blaming humans. Etikki i praksis. Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 9, 73 – 86.

Alvarez, A., Mendoza, L. & Danielson, P. (2015) Mixed Views About Radical Life Extension. Etikki i praksis Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 87-110.

Danielson, P.A. (2013) N-Reasons: Computer Mediated Ethical Decision Support for Public Participation. In Publics & Emerging Technologies: Cultures, Contexts, and Challenges, (Eds, Einsiedel, E. & O’Doherty, K.) UBC Press, Vancouver, pp. 248 – 260.

Moon, A.J., Danielson, P.A. & Van der Loos, H.F.M. (2012) Survey-based Discussions on Morally Contentious Applications of Interactive Robotics. International Journal of Social Robotics, 1 – 20.

Fenwick, N., Danielson, P. & Griffen, G. (2011) Survey of Canadian animal-based researchers’ views on the Three Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement. PLoS One, 6, e22478.

Danielson, P. (2010) Designing a machine to learn about the ethics of robotics: the N-reasons platform. Ethics and Information Technology, 12, 251-261.

Danielson, P. (2010) A collaborative platform for experiments in ethics and technology. In Philosophy and Engineering: an Emerging Agenda, (Eds, van der Poel, I. & Goldberg, D.E.) Springer, Berlin, pp. 239-252.

Danielson, P.A. (2009) Can robots have a conscience? Review of Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. Nature, 457, 540.


Peter A. Danielson. 1992. Artificial Morality: Virtuous Robots for Virtual Games. London: Routledge. This is the most significant in terms of influence measured by citation.  Artificial Morality has been widely cited in several literatures: ethics and game theory, artificial ethics, law and AI, and distributed artificial intelligence.

Peter A. Danielson “Competition among Cooperators: Altruism and Reciprocity”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (2002): 7237 – 7242.  Widely cited in the agent-based modeling and evolution of norms literatures.

Danielson, P. 2004. Rationality and Evolution. The Oxford Handbook of Rationality. A. R. Mele and P. Rawling. New York, Oxford University Press: 417 – 437. Foundational work, relating game theory to evolution and ethics.

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