At the beginning of this report’s section, I suggested that there is a continuum from a fully human animal to a cybernetic organism to a fully robotic machine. This spectrum is perhaps defined by how many human body parts we replace with mechanical ones, ranging from zero to all. Enhanced warfighters, then, could fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. If “robot ethics” is different from human ethics, at least where relevant facts about humans and robots differ, then it seems that “cyborg ethics” too would diverge from human ethics where there’s a relevant difference in the construction and abilities between cyborgs and humans. Though not all enhanced persons are cyborgs, e.g., if the enhancements are genetic, pharmacological, or otherwise not robotic, we can also reasonably conclude that ethics for enhanced persons generally may be different from the standard human ethics.
Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’
Tags: Cyborg, Ethics, Human Enhancement, Philosophy, Robotics
New technologies reveal ambiguities and hidden assumptions in international humanitarian law.
Science fiction, or actual U.S. military project? Half a world away from the battlefield, a soldier controls his avatar-robot that does the actual fighting on the ground. Another one wears a sticky fabric that enables her to climb a wall like a gecko or spider would. Returning from a traumatic mission, a pilot takes a memory-erasing drug to help ward off post-traumatic stress disorder. Mimicking the physiology of dolphins and sled-dogs, a sailor is able to work his post all week without sleep and only a few meals.
All of these scenarios are real military projects currently in various stages of research. This is the frontlines of the Human Enhancement Revolution — we now know enough about biology, neuroscience, computing, robotics, and materials to hack the human body, reshaping it in our own image. And defense-related applications are a major driver of science and technology research.
But, as I reported earlier, we also face serious ethical, legal, social, and operational issues in enhancing warfighters. Here, I want to drill down on what the laws of war say about military human enhancements, as we find that other technologies such as robotics and cyberweapons run into serious problems in this area as well.
Should enhancement technologies — which typically do not directly interact with anyone other than the human subject — be nevertheless subject to a weapons legal-review? That is, is there a sense in which enhancements could be considered as “weapons” and therefore under the authority of certain laws?
In international humanitarian law (IHL), also known as the laws of war, the primary instruments relevant to human enhancements include: Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), Geneva Conventions (1949 and Additional Protocols I, II, and III), Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (1972), Chemical Weapons Convention (1993), and other law. Below, I discuss these agreements and what their implications may be for human enhancement.
If autonomous robots are clearly regulatable weapons, then consider the spectrum of cyborgs — part-human, part-machine — that exists between robots and unenhanced humans. Replacing one body part, say a human knee, with a robotic part starts us on the cybernetic path. And as other body parts are replaced, the organism becomes less human and more robotic. Finally, after (hypothetically) replacing every body part, including the brain, the organism is entirely robotic with no trace of the original human. If we want to say that robots are weapons but humans are not, then we would be challenged to identify the point on that spectrum at which the human becomes a robot or a weapon.
Tags: AR, Augmented Reality, Cyborg, Ethics, RA, racism, Virtual Reality
Racism is ugly to confront, and, like most people, I’ve got plenty of personal stories. My grandmother, bless her heart, was a wonderful grandmother, but like many Jewish people of her generation, she was incredibly racist, afraid of black people she didn’t know. This fear caused her anxiety when she got the urge to go to a favorite restaurant. She loved the food, but, as she would derisively say, so did the schvartze (Yiddish slur for a black person). What if she didn’t have to see the black people at all? This possibility is what worries me about our augmented-reality future, which is (mostly) anticipated with optimism. If grandma had lived to see ubiquitous augmented reality, I suspect she’d put it to dehumanizing use, leaving for the restaurant with her goggles on (a less obtrusive artifact than the Coke bottle glasses she actually wore), programming them to make all dark skinned people look like variations of Larry David and Rhea Pearlman. As Brian Wassom — who regularly writes on augmented reality — notes, if apps can “recognize a particular shade of melanin, and replace it with another,” racists could one day “live in their own version of…utopia.” (via Augmented-Reality Racism – Evan Selinger – The Atlantic)
“The ultimate ideal sought,” wrote Harvey Ernest Jordan in 1912, “is a perfect society constituted of perfect individuals.” Jordan, who would later be dean of medicine at the University of Virginia, was speaking to the importance of eugenics in medicine—a subject that might seem tasteless and obsolete today. Yet nearly a century later, in 2008, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the biomedical research institute on Long Island’s north shore, published a book titled Davenport’s Dream, which shows that eugenic visions persist. Charles Davenport, a colleague and friend of Jordan’s, had directed Cold Spring Harbor for the first third of the 20th century, turning it from a sleepy, summertime marine-biology laboratory into a center for genetics research—and the epicenter of American eugenics. (via The Eugenic Impulse – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education)
A team of scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center and the Oregon Health & Science University are reporting a remarkable advance in the treatment of inherited genetic disease in the journal Nature. They show it is possible to repair a tiny part of a human egg cell that, when broken, causes a host of awful inherited genetic diseases. Those diseases cause disability and the death for many children and adults. What is equally remarkable is that the treatment they report is illegal in Britain, Germany, Costa Rica, Norway and Sweden and would be illegal to provide using federal dollars in the United States. What did the Oregon scientists do? And why is it so ethically controversial? Mitochondria are the batteries of human cells. They convert oxygen and nutrients into a chemical that is the source of the energy that allows chromosomes to move and recombine and, once a sperm arrives, a fertilized embryo to grow. Every cell in your body has mitochondria inherited from your mother’s egg. When these little cellular engines have a genetic problem, it can make for terrible diseases in any child that inherits them.
Tags: Ethics, Human Enhancement, Philosophy, Science, Technology
In their introductory piece, “Well-Being and Enhancement”, to their edited collection Enhancing Human Capacities, Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen, and Guy Kahane attempt to define “enhancement” or “human enhancement”, settling on a conception related to well-being.
Thus, they reject the idea that there is distinction between enhancement, on one hand, and therapy, healthcare, or medical treatment. All of the latter fall within enhancement. The definition that they use, on page 7 of the book, is “Any change in the biology or psychology of a person which increases the chances of leading a good life in the relevant set of circumstances.” I hope it’s obvious that this is very broad: it could, for example, cover not only the entirety of good (whatever exactly that means) medical practice, but also much in the way of nutrition, sports training, academic study, moral teaching, and on and on. Perhaps this is, in fact, the ordinary meaning of “enhancement”, as applied to human capacities, as the authors suggest, but by itself it doesn’t tell us what the fuss is all about. There appears to be an idea abroad that some particular set of real or imagined interventions is especially morally problematic, and that the term “enhancement” tracks these. Why – where does that idea come from?