Archive for May, 2009


Journal of Evolution and Technology has some reading material

Tuesday, 26 May, 2009

I know I’m not posting as frequently as I could be, but the Journal of Evolution and Technology has two special issues that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

  • Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights (HETHR) Special Issue

-vi:  James Hughes:  “Introduction”

1-9:  Patrick Hopkins:  “Is Enhancement Worthy of Being a Right?”

10-26: Fritz Allhoff:  “Germ Line Genetic-Enhancement and Rawlsian Primary Goods”:

27-34: Martin Gunderson:  “Enhancing Human Rights: How the Use of Human Rights Treaties to Prohibit Genetic Engineering Weakens Human Rights”

35-41: Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff:  “Against Unrestricted Human Enhancement”

42-49: Fred Gifford:  “Ethical Issues in Enhancement Research”

50-55: Aubrey de Grey:  “Our Right to Life”

56-69: Gregory Fowler and Kirk Allison:  “Technology and Citizenry: A Model for Public Consultation in Science Policy Formation”

70-78: Laura Colleton:  “The Elusive Line Between Enhancement and Therapy and Its Effects on Health Care in the U.S.”

79-85: Anita Silvers:  “The right not to be normal as the essence of freedom”

86-93: Martin Gunderson:  “Genetic Engineering and the Consent of Future Persons”

94-107: Martine Rothblatt:  “Are We Transbemans Yet?”

108-115: Mark Walker:  “Cognitive Enhancement and the Identity Objection”

116-123: Eva Caldera:  “Cognitive Enhancement and Theories of Justice: Contemplating the Malleability of Nature and Self”

124-128:  Dawn Jakubowski:  “Cognitive Enhancement and Liberatory Possibilities of Antidepressant Therapy”

129-142: George Dvorsky:  “All Together Now: Considerations for biologically uplifting non-human animals”

As you can see, both issues have articles that cover interesting topics and the articles are all worth a read. Check out the contents of these issues, and read them for free.

I don’t think any of those articles, nor their authors, express arguments that are perfectly identical to mine (in other words, I have a bone to pick with most of their articles). But don’t worry, I’ll soon be blogging more frequently again, or at least I hope to.


Boosting brainpower

Thursday, 14 May, 2009

The practical and ethical issues with intelligence enhancement are receiving more attention, with a recent article in New Scientist titled “Will designer brains divide humanity“.

For the most part, the article is quite basic, but I have an issue with one part in particular:

The next stage of brainpower enhancement could be technological – through genetic engineering or brain prostheses. Because the gene variants pivotal to intellectual brilliance have yet to be discovered, boosting brainpower by altering genes may still be some way off, or even impossible. Prostheses are much closer, especially as the technology for wiring brains into computers is already being tested.

This is none other than cybernetic favoritism! I mean sure, genes effecting intelligence aren’t obvious, but it’s also not obvious how and where to interface a brain chip to increase intelligence. And though neural prostheses are being tested, no neural prosthesis has increased any aspect of intelligence in any brain, whereas there have been 33 genetic alterations that increase the learning and memory of mice (not to mention that all the differences in intelligence between animals are genetic in origin). Considering the annoyance of having surgery for neural implants compared to the ease of a simple injection for genetic modification, I would personally put my money on the genetic enhancement of intelligence. Nonetheless, both avenues should be pursued, and might eventually complement one another.

Onto the ethical issues discussed in the article, most are fairly basic. Starting with human dignity, referring to comments made by Dietrich Birnbacher, a philosopher at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany:

One potential problem arises from altering what we consider to be “normal”: the dangers are similar to the social pressure to conform to idealised forms of beauty, physique or sporting ability that we see today. People without enhancement could come to see themselves as failures, have lower self-esteem or even be discriminated against by those whose brains have been enhanced, Birnbacher says.

These concerns are all quite valid, but aren’t necessarily impossible barriers. If enhancement technology was supported by the government, then no people wanting such technology would be left without it. And the discrimination I will deal with in a minute, after looking at the next section:

The perception that some people are giving themselves an unfair advantage over everyone else by “enhancing” their brains would be socially divisive, says John Dupré at the University of Exeter, UK. “Anyone can read to their kids or play them music, but put a piece of software in their heads, and that’s seen as unfair,” he says. As Dupré sees it, the possibility of two completely different human species eventually developing is “a legitimate worry”.

I do actually worry about enhancement being socially divisive, but I am not sure this would occur only by discrimination of the enhanced towards the un-enhanced. As I have argued previously, it’s entirely possible that the enhanced will be viewed as unnatural disgraces to humanity, and the pure, natural humans would discriminate against them because of it.

The rest of the article deals with issues such as brain plasticity, evolution and epigenetics. These are not particularly relevant to any ethical concerns and neither will they significantly enhance the intelligence of the average reader of this blog, so I’m not going to address them here.


Miah on enhancement

Friday, 1 May, 2009

Andy Miah has an article on enhancement in The Guardian.

It’s short, but I agree with many of the conclusions. And apparently the European Parliament will be looking at the issue of enhancement soon, so I’ll be blogging on that as soon as more news comes to hand.