enhancement

Making Ourselves Better

Written by Stephen Rainey

Human beings are sometimes seen as uniquely capable of enacting life plans and controlling our environment. Take technology, for instance; with it we make the world around us yield to our desires in various ways. Communication technologies, and global transport, for example, have the effect of practically shrinking a vast world, making hitherto impossible coordination possible among a global population. This contributes to a view of human-as-maker, or ‘homo faber‘. But taking such a view can risk minimising human interests that ought not to be ignored.

Homo faber is a future-oriented, adaptable, rational animal, whose efforts are aligned with her interests when she creates technology that enables a stable counteraction of natural circumstance. Whereas animals are typically seen to have well adapted responses to their environment, honed through generations of adaptation, human beings appear to have instead a general and adaptable skill that can emancipate them from material, external circumstances. We are bad at running away from danger, for instance, but good at building barriers to obviate the need to run. The protections this general, adaptable skill offer are inherently future-facing: humans seem to seek not to react to, but to control the environment.

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Neurointerventions, Disrespectful Messages, and the Right to be Listened to

Written by Gabriel De Marco

Neurointerventions can be roughly described as treatments or procedures that act directly on the physical properties of the brain in order to affect the subject’s psychological characteristics. The ethics of using neurointerventions can be quite complicated, and much of the discussion has revolved around the use of neurointerventions to improve the moral character of the subjects. Within this debate, there is a sub-debate concerning the use of enhancement techniques on criminal offenders. For instance, some jurisdictions make use of chemical castration, intended to reduce the subjects’ level of testosterone in order to reduce the likelihood of further sexual offenses. One particularly thorny question regards the use of neurointerventions on offenders without their consent. Here, I focus on just one version of one objection to the use of non-consensual neurocorrectives (NNs).

According to one style of objection, NNs are always impermissible because they express a disrespectful message. To be clear, the style objection I consider does not appeal to the potential consequences of expressing this message; rather, it relies on the claim that there is something intrinsic to the expression of such a message that gives us a reason (or reasons) for not performing an action that would express this message. For the use of non-consensual neurocorrectives, this reason (or set of reasons) is strong enough to make NNs impermissible. The particular version of this objection that I focus on claims that the disrespectful message is that the offender does not have a right to be listened to.

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Scrabbling for Augmentation

By Stephen Rainey

 

Around a decade ago, Facebook users were widely playing a game called ‘Scrabulous’ with one another. It was pretty close to Scrabble, effectively, leading to a few legal issues.

Alongside Scrabulous, the popularity of Scrabble-assistance websites grew. Looking over the shoulders of work colleagues, you could often spy a Scrabulous window, as well as one for scrabblesolver.co.uk too. The strange phenomenon of easy, online Scrabulous cheating seemed pervasive for a time.

The strangeness of this can hardly be overstated. Friends would be routinely trying to pretend to one another that they were superior wordsmiths, by each deploying algorithmic anagram solvers. The ‘players’ themselves would do nothing but input data to the automatic solvers. As Charlie Brooker reported back in 2007,

“We’d rendered ourselves obsolete. It was 100% uncensored computer-on-computer action, with two meat puppets pulling the levers, fooling no one but themselves.”

Back to the present, and online Scrabble appears to have lost its sheen (or lustre, patina, or polish). But in a possible near future, I wonder if some similar issues could arise. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why We Should Genetically ‘Disenhance’ Animals Used in Factory Farms

This essay was the winner in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Undergraduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student Jonathan Latimer

 I will defend the process of genetic ‘disenhancement’ of animals used for factory farming. I suggest that disenhancement will significantly increase the quality of life for animals in factory farms, and that this benefit is robust against objections that disenhancement is harmful to animals and that it fails to address the immorality of factory farming. Contra to a previous submission, I hope to recast disenhancement as something which ought to be seriously considered on behalf of animals in factory farms.

Currently, the factory farming of livestock animals for human consumption causes a great amount of suffering in those animals. It is widely acknowledged that the conditions many animals face in factory farms are abhorrent. Furthermore, demand for factory-farmed meat is increasing worldwide as developing economies grow more affluent. This will lead to more animals suffering in factory farms in the future. One potential solution to this problem is the ‘disenhancement’ of livestock animals. Disenhancement is a genetic modification that removes an animal’s capacity to feel pain. Scientists hope to be able to do this without inflicting any pain at all. So, disenhancement promises to reduce suffering in factory-farmed animals by removing their capacity to feel pain caused by their terrible environment. Continue reading

Neuroblame?

Written by Stephen Rainey

Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), or brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), are technologies controlled directly by the brain. They are increasingly well known in terms of therapeutic contexts. We have probably all seen the remarkable advances in prosthetic limbs that can be controlled directly by the brain. Brain-controlled legs, arms, and hands allow natural-like mobility to be restored where limbs had been lost. Neuroprosthetic devices connected directly to the brain allow communication to be restored in cases where linguistic ability is impaired or missing.

It is often said that such devices are controlled ‘by thoughts’. This isn’t strictly true, as it is the brain that the devices read, not the mind. In a sense, unnatural patterns of neural activity must be realised to trigger and control devices. Producing the patterns is a learned behaviour – the brain is put to use by the device owner in order to operate it. This distinction between thought-reading and brain-reading might have important consequences for some conceivable scenarios. To think these through, we’ll indulge in a little bit of ‘science fiction prototyping’.

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Video Series: John Harris Defends Gene-Editing in Human Embryos

Novel gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas9, allow scientists to make very precise changes in the genome of human embryos. This could prevent serious genetic diseases in future children. But the use of gene editing in human embryos also raises questions: Is it safe? Should prospective parents be free to choose the genetic characteristics of their children? What if they want to use gene editing to have a deaf child, or a child with fair skin and blue eyes? Should gene editing be regulated globally, or should each country have their own legislation? In this interview with Katrien Devolder, John Harris (Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester &  Visiting Professor in Bioethics, King’s College London) answers these and other questions, and defends the view that we have the strongest moral obligation to gene-edit human embryos, not only to prevent disease but also for the purpose of enhancement.

Super Soldiers, Civ-Mil Relations, and the 21st Century Coriolanus

Written by Michael Robillard

 

            “Let me have war, say I: it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it’s spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war’s a destroyer of men.”
William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus

As 21st century technology continues to progress at an ever alarming pace, the science-fiction notion of ‘human enhancement’ looks, day by day, to be an ever-approaching reality. Neuro-chemical enhancement, genetic enhancement, man/machine pairing; each of these emerging technologies carries with it, both individually and collectively, a host of ethical worries concerning the well-being, autonomy, and identity of the individual person. These ethical worries arguably become even more problematic and complex when considering the specific enhancement of soldiers.

In addition to the many ethical concerns surrounding human enhancement in general, the issue of soldier enhancement in particular appears to come with its own set of unique moral problems. This is so, at least in part, since the role of soldier often requires the promotion of attributes, aspects of character, and capacities that are arguably virtuous within the context of war but potentially vicious within the context of otherwise ‘normal’ society. Indeed, a propensity towards obedience, a disinhibition towards violence, extreme tolerance for risk, and being exceptionally skillful at the trade of killing are not typical attributes we would consider noble or praise-worthy within the day-to-day domestic sphere, though they are attributes absolutely vital for success on the battlefield. Continue reading

Cross Post: Speaking with: Julian Savulescu on the ethics of genetic modification in humans

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Could genetic engineering one day allow parents to have designer babies?
Tatiana Vdb/flickr, CC BY

William Isdale, University of Melbourne

What if humans are genetically unfit to overcome challenges like climate change and the growing inequality that looks set to define our future?

Julian Savulescu, visiting professor at Monash University and Uehiro professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford University, argues that modifying the biological traits of humans should be part of the solution to secure a safe and desirable future.

The University of Melbourne’s William Isdale spoke to Julian Savulescu about what aspects of humanity could be altered by genetic modifications and why it might one day actually be considered unethical to withhold genetic enhancements that could have an overwhelmingly positive effect on a child’s life. Continue reading

Video: Professor Julian Savulescu speaks in the DNA Manipulation Debate at The Oxford Union

The Oxford Union.

The Motion: This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.

The Speakers: Julian Savulescu closed the case for the Proposition, as the fifth speaker of six in the debate.

When People Work Together is Less More or Less (and is More Less or More)?

Written by Andreas Kappes

This is an unedited version of Andreas Kappes’ article which was originally  published on The Conversation

Twitter:@ankappes

Doping in sports often gives us intriguing insights not only into how we think about right and wrong1, but also into our intuitions about performance. In the aftermath of the latest doping scandal, for instance, Arsene Wegner, eminent football manager of Arsenal London, accused the Uefa (governing body of European football) of “basically accepting” doping 2. Arsenal London had just lost to Dynamo Kiev and one player form the Ukrainian team was caught doping. Uefa did not punish the Ukrainians, only the perpetrator. But surely, one doped player makes a team better, gives an unfair advantage to them, right? This intuition reflects how most of us think about performance in groups, not only in sports, but group performance everywhere. More of something that enhances individual performance such as expertise or skill is also more success for the team, and more of something that impairs individual performance such as sleep deprivation or stress means also less success for the team. Continue reading

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