Nanomorality

Technology based on tiny particles could lead to both miracle cures and pervasive crimes. How do we stay human in a nano world?

BY: Interview with Nigel Cameron

 

Continued from page 1

My impression was that if you were 80 years old and your arm joint had worn out, a machine would be put in to help with that, but you’d still have a human brain.

I have no problem with that. I have a sore knee right now! You don’t become a cyborg by having a hip replaced. What the transhumanists want to do is use nano-devices to live a life that ceases to be human.

In what way would the transhumanist scenario be non-human?

For example, they want to take people who have not had a bang on the head and put chips in their brains, what they call neuroprostheses. You can wire up your neurons with a computer.

What if someone says “Gee, my human brain is great, but just like Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix," I’d like to learn judo”?

Exactly. You can get the chip.

How is that not human?

When you ask yourself, what are the things that make humans most human? When are we being truest to ourselves? With these enhancements, like learning a new skill or getting rid of unpleasant memories—so-called cosmetic neurology—a term being used now in neurology journals for elective playing around with your brain…you want to get over a traumatic experience, that’s the kind of thing people are working on.

It’s one thing to learn judo with a chip. What if you’re wealthy and you want your 16-year-old to ace her SATs and you buy the upgrades and the chips?

You end up with the end of the human community, the new feudalism. You’ll have some beings who cease to be human and become massively powerful computational machines, who are able to control global economy and politics. The rest become the serfs.

There’s a naïve geekiness about those who talk about enhancing human nature without asking what human nature is.

At a Sandia conference about cognitive enhancement, I said the case has not been made that putting chips in your brain so you can remember your logorhythmic tables, or putting Google behind your right eye, is an enhancement. It may in fact be a degradation of what it means to be human. It’s like giving a man one arm that’s six feet long. Is that an enhancement? It would help him get stuff down from shelves in a store, but it would mess up his capacity to be human.

Let’s not have this machine reductionism which is allied with technoutopianism. People like [transhumanist leader] Jay Hughes would call me a bioluddite or a “human racist.”

If people see nano as a transhumanist thing, anything nano will be suspect in the market. There’s real damage likely to be done to the good, healthy economic prospects of the technology by the prominence of the transhumanist ideas.

I say apply these to the arts, to our capacity to work with those who are mentally handicapped. Let’s talk about what it means to be human, and then talk about how we can help us be more human.

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