Transhumanism and the New Ethics

November 17, 2009

Transhumanism is a philosophical outlook on the promise of technology to dramatically improve human life.  Computer implants in our brains, microscopic machines fixing our cells, and cybernetic prostheses added to our limbs will get us close to immortality and maybe closer to divinity. Can the old homo sapiens model finally be junked? 

The Human Enhancement Ethics Group has released its report addressing the ethics of human enhancement.  This report is remarkably frank about the way that human enhancement can’t be fully judged by applying today’s ethical standards.

"To a large extent, our ethics depends on the kinds of creatures that we are. Philosophers traditionally have based ethical theories on assumptions about human nature. With enhancements we may become relevantly different creatures and therefore need to re-think our basic ethical positions. For example, will we be as sympathetic toward other humans that differ substantially from us in their nature? We may need to do ethics differently."

This is a very good question to raise. It is hard enough to decide ethical questions when we are sure that we are dealing with problems among humans. Transhuman beings might regard themselves as sufficiently different to start wondering if they should be bound by the old rules. Ordinary humans might be unable to regard transhuman beings as sufficiently human to be covered by the old rules. Science fictions has pondered such scenarios for generations; or watch any episode of Heroes. But homo sapiens has struggled with this issue already. Right now, lucky people in advanced Western countries can live three times as long as most of the rest of the human population on the planet. And look how well the privileged few, with their ethics, treat the rest. 

Download the report at www.humanenhance.com/NSF_report.pdf . The Human Enhancement Ethics Group is a sub-group of the Ethics + Emerging Technologies Group, at www.emergingethics.com .