A reply to Allen Buchanan on Cognitive Enhancement

The interview with Allen Buchanan has spawned numerous discussions throughout the web, including Brendan Foht’s response. In it, Foht looks to address Buchanan’s claim that the nature of our evolution in some sense justifies cognitive enhancement, and the existence of other technologies.

It is strange that Buchanan thinks that opponents of genetic engineering who find something worth preserving in our nature must believe that evolution is analogous to some sort of “master engineer.” Considering that evolution is a slow process by which biological order spontaneously emerges from highly complex networks of highly conserved genes, there would seem to be an obvious analogy for it in the conservative view of society.

Another article on the topic by Allen Buchanan can be found here. And you can watch a lecture by Buchanan through Youtube, titled “Using Biotechnology to enhance normal humans: Why nature isn’t good enough.” 

What Sorts course

I’ll be teaching a fairly large, mixed grad / undergrad seminar this coming semester as an ethics course with the working title that coincides with the blog: what sorts of people should there be?. Below is an initial draft of the core part of the syllabus. Feedback and suggestions welcome. One feature of the course will be to integrate some of the posts, videos, and commentaries from the What Sorts blog, using them as a basis for further discussion and readings.  If any of you are also making use of some of the resources here or at www.whatsorts.net, let me know by reply here or privately.

Phil 450 / 550
Topics in Ethics
What sorts of people should there be?

Themes, readings, etc.


Course guide description:

This course will be organized around the question “What sorts of people should there be?” and will focus on philosophical issues that arise in several areas at the interface of ethics, science, and technology. Topics that I would imagine covering including most, if not all, of the following: autonomy and personal choice concerning one’s appearance, health, and well-being; choices and responsibilities for one’s own possible and actual children; social policies and common practices regarding future generations, including genetic testing and screening; philosophical and medical views of disability and disablement; bioenhancement and transhumanism; the moral value of human and non-human lives; the nature of persons and the philosophical focus on questions about persons. Continue reading

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Q & A

Panel questions for Nick Agar–from Natasha Vita-More on either / or, and Ed Stein on backing up.

If you’re interested in following this debate, you can also check out some of the comments building up directly on the Youtube posting of this right here.

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Parts 2 and 3

Here Nick moves on to uploading proper, starting with ideas about cochlear implants and the incremental move on to full uploading. Turning minds to technology, the celebration of the arrival of The Singularity in 2045, and then uploading … and why this is a bad idea!

In part 2, we get as far as the outline of Nick’s main argument, taking seriously the possibility that uploading = death. In part 3, we get the deal finished. For both, you might want to have the following handy, using your extended mind:

A = You live; benefit from bioenhancements, but forego other, significant enhancements asociated with uploading

B =You live; benefit from bioenhancements, and avoid death or replacement by a non-conscious Upload

C =You live; benefit from electronic enhancements, disease free, intellectual surge

D = You die; replaced by a machine incapable of conscious thought.

Human Kinds–Ray Kurzweil and Uploading: Just Say “No”–Part 1

Nick Agar‘s talk at the Human Kinds Symposium focuses on Kurzweil on uploading, and gives his ideas a critical combing. Here Nick starts off with some of the basic, background ideas that Kurzweil draws on before getting ready for the view of uploading, in Part 2.

Nick’s Wikipedia page stub is here and his homepage at Victoria, Wellington, is over here.

Human Kinds: Design Issues Concerning Extreme Life Extension–Part 3

The final part of Natasha Vita-More’s talk, together with an audible but hard-to-hear exchange with Nick Agar at the end. Nick is asking about the prototype that Natasha designed 10 years ago, Primo Posthuman. You can get more on Primo, and on Natasha’s work more generally, from her website.

The examples that Natasha provides are provocative, and in the exchange with Nick we’re reminded of the difference between “prototype design” and “industrial design”–design at the planning (detailed as that may be) level, and design at the level of implementation. But even once implemented in some form, there’s the further question of what we might call full-blown implementation, truly industrial design, where we scale up from some kind of implementation to implement the device to realize its full promise.

Example: consider artificial intelligence vs artificial retinae (and related visual prosthetics) or cochlear implants. Continue reading