Human Enhancement Symposium Abstracts

Feb 22, 2011 by Matthew J. Brown

Emerging Transmortal Designs for Wearable Selves

Natasha Vita-More, University of Plymouth, UK
Founder, H+ Lab for Human Enhancement Design Science

Evidence points to a more seamless integration of biology and technology. The question arises: will we wear bio-tech interfaces as a means of expression or will our sense of self become lost in this transformation? The fusion of personhood and technology forms a narrative in exploring perceptions of human enhancement in media design and science.  Stemming from cybernetics, enhancement leads toward emerging artificial systems and suggests new transmortal systems. This paper focuses on three specific areas that offer potential for future humans and warrant concern: enhancement methods and materials, new types of normal, and diverse behaviors of wearable selves.

Substrate Matters: Feminism and Gender in Singularitarianism

Amy Michelle DeBaets
Emory University

This paper will analyze the functions of gender in the Singularitarian movement through the lens of theorist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil holds a neo-Cartesian dualist understanding of personhood as well as a technological progressivist vision of history and a teleological understanding of evolution. Kurzweil likewise reads the history of evolution in an anthropocentric and progressive mode, which is both a misreading of evolution and an ethical hazard. A feminist analysis of Kurzweil’s anthropology and teleology will lead to a counternarrative that incorporates feminist insights into the nature of persons and the importance of embodiment to both robotic and human self-understanding.

Ethical Implications of Taking Smart Drugs: Is Taking Smart Drugs Smart?

Cesar Palacios Gonzalez
National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)

The purpose of this paper is to argue that the moral disqualification of cognition enhancements through the argument that enhancing is a type of cheating is ill-founded. I shall present arguments that advocate in favor of nootropics use to enhance cognitive capacities, when they meet some criteria. After that I will address fairness and inducement in their use. Finally I will compare the case of sports doping with academic doping to show why the use of the later to explain the former is misleading when thinking of the academic world as a zero-sum situation.

Extended Minds, Extended Technologies, and Extended Persons

Riley Halligan
Montana State University

Some transhumanist literature suggests that technologies that are directly connected to the human brain/body have different moral implications than the technologies that are not. But as Clark and Chalmers’ argue, when one uses any tool, the mind is extended beyond the brain. While objecting to transhumanism is probably futile, the question remains; “What sort of technologies should we advocate and what sort of technologies should be avoided?” This paper argues against positions that take transhumanism as something that can be stopped and emphasizes a position that acknowledges its inevitability.

What is Human Perfection?

Ruth Tallman
Barry University

In this paper, I consider some conditions, such as deafness and homosexuality that, while not “normal” for human beings, do not clearly cause more harm than good for the individual who has the condition. I will argue that it is morally permissible for parents to choose to refrain from giving birth to a child with such conditions, but that a public policy in which such conditions were systematically removed from the gene pool would be morally impermissible, as it would be to impose an unacceptable societal value judgment on certain lifestyles, reducing diversity and free choice.

Enhancing Discourse, Not People: Habermas’s Modest Proposal for Liberal Eugenics

Tatiana Patrone, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Ithaca College, Ithaca NY

Habermas’s The Future of Human Nature is commonly taken to contain a conservative argument against genetic enhancement. Contrary to this, I argue that Habermas’s position does not clearly belong to the conservative camp. In order to show this, I reconstruct Habermas’s argument as a two-tiered position. First, I go over his deontological criticism of positive eugenics and argue that his account is based on a Kantian concept of perfect duties to others. Second, I focus on his meta-argument against ‘liberal eugenics’ to the conclusion that a formal moral theory cannot fully answer the question of ethical permissibility of genetic enhancement.

Cognitive Enhancement and Discriminatory Implications of the Standard View of Moral Status

Matthew C. Braddock
Duke University

Many accept the Standard View that the most important ground of a creature’s moral status consists in the kinds of cognitive capacities it possesses. This paper makes trouble for the Standard View by spelling out its counterintuitive discriminatory implications. Suppose through genetic cognitive enhancement we could engineer cognitively superior beings—“supra-persons”— whose cognitive capacities surpass ours (in kind) to the extent that ours surpass that of higher primates. Given that it is permissible to kill a chimp to save a human being, the Standard View objectionably implies it would be permissible to kill a human being to save a supra-person.

On the Possibility and Implications of Moral Status Enhancement

Ronald Sandler, Northeastern University
John Basl, University of Wisconsin – Madison

When the cognitive capacities of an individual are enhanced, what is the impact on that individual’s moral status? We defend a capacities-oriented framework for understanding moral status and explain how cognitive enhancement relates to moral status. We then take up the implications of moral status enhancement in the context of enhancing the moral status of research subjects and in the context of enhancing the moral status of human beings.

Emergent Virtualism — Human Enhancement through Game-Based Simulations

Marjorie A. Zielke, Institute for Interactive Arts and Engineering
The University of Texas at Dallas

A game-based simulation uses the platform and techniques of video games combined with life-like environments to create virtual humans. Virtual humans in game-based simulations are a form of human enhancement and are created not only from the artistic modeling of physical and auditory form, but also from behavioral/cultural and psychological models, applicable databases of human and environmental factors, interactions with other virtual humans and integration with people through a variety of technological interfaces. In this way, the virtual human in a game-based simulation creates human enhancement through interaction. Virtual humans can synthetically evolve to reflect ongoing regional, social, economic, behavioral and cultural factors. We call this emergent virtualism.

Neuroeconomics and the Enhancement of Human Decision-making

David M. Frank
Department of Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin

This paper examines the prospects for the enhancement of human decision-making and well-being using knowledge emerging from the interdisciplinary science of neuroeconomics. After introducing neuroeconomics, the first section of the paper discusses philosophical problems surrounding the possible enhancement of the rationality of human decision-making. The second section of the paper discusses whether and how measurements of human well-being could be informed by neuroeconomic data.

Cognitive Enhancers, Students, and Virtues

Gavin Enck
University of Tennessee

In academics, there is an assumption that a student earns a grade through their own effort and work. However, it possible that the grade a student receives is impacted by factors beyond the student’s control?

This paper argues two claims: first, the use of cognitive enhancers is cheating. However, this is a weak claim, so the second claim is to reframe the problem of cognitive enhancers as one of intellectual and moral virtues. If academics involve intellectual virtues, and this is a moral good, then students using cognitive enhancers are receiving moral praise for things beyond their control.

The Ethics of Human Impairment

Jim Delaney, Associate Professor, Philosophy Department, Niagara University
Steve Petersen, Assistant Professor, Philosophy Department, Niagara University

Though human enhancement is controversial, it may seem obvious to all that human impairment is impermissible. For example, it seems wrong to engineer humans to be pleased with performing only menial tasks, in the style of the “delta caste” in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But it is surprisingly difficult to give arguments for why exactly this would be wrong, and surprisingly easy to give good arguments that it would not be wrong to engineer such a delta caste. We explore these distressing arguments and their implications for the enhancement debate.

Hive-Mind Ethics: What are they?

Katherine Ruff
Montana State University

With recent technological advances humans are able to communicate with larger groups and interact with more people on a daily basis, but without the emotional connection of a face-to-face encounter. In this paper I will argue that certain groups have begun to act with hive-mind like behavior. This change in social interaction and behavior will have an effect on what is ethically acceptable in a society, and force us to re-think our ethical systems and policies. By examining swarms and hive-minds in action it may be possible to devise ethical theories based on the actions of individuals in that swarm.

Genetic Advantage and Enhanced Humans

Noah Levin
Department of Philosophy, Washington State University – Pullman

I will explore the concept of “genetic advantage” in which an individual has a genetic trait or mutation that results in a clear “advantage” over other “normal” individuals. I will focus on mutations that block the release of myostatin which result in abnormally large and strong muscle growth. I will use the discussion to help shed light on the treatment/enhancement distinction and argue that individuals with a myostatin mutation may be considered “enhanced” in certain contexts where other procedures more traditionally considered enhancements might better be understood as treatments.

You Look Human To Me! Investigating The Political Stakes of ‘Species Integrity’, A Phenomenological Approach

Darian Meacham, Department of History, Philosophy and Politics
University of the West of England

How much of the debate over species integrity really has to do with the biological integrity of the human species (a problematic concept anyway) or conceptions about a specifically human nature that we ought to protect, and how much has to do with something else? In this paper, I will examine some of the “bioconservative” arguments against enhancement and criticism of these arguments. I contend that what is at stake in many of these arguments is not really the integrity of the human species or vague notions of human nature, but rather the fragility of intersubjective relations.

“Virtue Engineering” and Moral Agency: Will Post-Humans Still Need the Virtues?

Fabrice Jotterand
Division of Ethics and Health Policy, UTSouthwestern Medical Center

In this presentation, I shall question the nature of the ethics and morals transhumanists claim can, or soon will, be manipulated artificially, i.e. “virtue engineering” (Hughes, 2006) or what I call neural moral enhancement. That is, neuro-technologies could allow the control and manipulation of human conduct through brain interventions that would enhance aretaic categories such as empathy, solidarity, altruism, gratitude, justice/fairness, shame, forgiveness, etc. I will argue that while the possibility to manipulate human behavior via emotional processes exists, the question still remains concerning the content of morality. In other words, neural moral enhancement does not capture the fullness of human moral psychology which includes moral capacity (ability/disposition to respond morally) and moral content (particular beliefs, moral actions and ideas) (Sadler, 2008). I argue that neural moral enhancement is a one-dimensional conceptualization of moral agency that does not reflect human moral psychology. That is, it is not clear what role, if any, personal beliefs, social practices and deliberative reasoning have in the formation of virtuous individuals. Neural moral enhancement envisions a world in which individual moral capacities will be enhanced and controlled but says nothing about the nature/content of morality.