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Human enhancement: redefining what it means to be human


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Slides for a talk given at the Character Education conference sponsored by the OECD and held in Geneva, October 2014

Published in: Education

Human enhancement: redefining what it means to be human

  1. 1. Human enhancements Redefining what it means to be human Character Education for a Challenging Century Geneva 22 October 2014
  2. 2. Introduction
  3. 3. Education is concerned with developing the person
  4. 4. Character education is centred in the human ! Character resides in individual humans
  5. 5. Character education fosters particularly human traits: courage, mindfulness, ethics
  6. 6. So a firm notion of what it means to be human is a vital foundation for character education.
  7. 7. But what it means to be human is changing
  8. 8. New technologies can augment our existing cognitive and physical capacities in novel ways
  9. 9. Traditional limits to perception and performance may no longer hold
  10. 10. What does that mean for our idea of what it is to be human?
  11. 11. What does it mean for character education?
  12. 12. History
  13. 13. Long history of augmenting human capacities with technology
  14. 14. Equally long history of developing prosthetics to compensate for reduced function
  15. 15. Enhancing human capabilities is a well-established human endeavour (perhaps a defining characteristic).
  16. 16. It hasn’t stopped us developing moral codes or striving to be more courageous.
  17. 17. So the changes described here don’t mean the end of character
  18. 18. But they do change how it will be demanded of people
  19. 19. and that needs a response from you.
  20. 20. Cosmetic pharmacology Prosthetics Genetic enhancement Networked minds
  21. 21. Cosmetic pharmacology
  22. 22. Use of drugs by people without disease to enhance cognitive and physiological performance
  23. 23. ‘smart drugs’
  24. 24. ‘nootropics’
  25. 25. Ritalin Modafinil (Provigil) Adderall Beta-blockers Nutraceuticals
  26. 26. Improving alertness and mental function
  27. 27. Improving affect and mood
  28. 28. Used by professionals and students
  29. 29. 1 in 5 Nature readers used drugs for focus and concentration (Nature survey, 2008)
  30. 30. Around a quarter of UK students at Oxford, Newcastle & Leeds have used Modafinil (The Tab, 2014)
  31. 31. Culture of medication
  32. 32. Global access to cheap pharmaceuticals online
  33. 33. History of presenting enhancements as treatments Fen-Phen Estrogen replacement
  34. 34. Demands of a knowledge economy Intellectual labour Emotional labour
  35. 35. Demonstration of character might be made possible through taking a drug
  36. 36. Or the capacity for demonstrating character might be enabled through pharmacological intervention
  37. 37. If students use these drugs, are they cheating?
  38. 38. If using smart drugs becomes common practice, will all students have equal access?
  39. 39. What sort of pressure will students face from schools or parents?
  40. 40. How can the dangers of unregulated pharmaceuticals be made clearer?
  41. 41. If doctors and firefighters can function better, shouldn’t they?
  42. 42. Genetic enhancement
  43. 43. Inserting genes into cells
  44. 44. Mitigating ageing damage, improving physical stamina, reducing risk of disease
  45. 45. Interaction between genetic and environmental factors is complex
  46. 46. Stem cell treatment for macular degeneration Injecting human embryonic stem cells behind retina Improved visual acuity
  47. 47. Preventing loss of muscle mass Mechano-growth factor and IGF-I gene Potential sports doping
  48. 48. Treatments for Type-1 diabetes in development Growing insulin-producing β cells Teams at Harvard, ViaCyte
  49. 49. Different forms of 5-HTTPLR associated with happiness, moral choices “carriers of the short (S) allele showed particular reluctance to endorse utilitarian actions resulting in foreseen harm to an innocent individual.” Marsh et al. (2011)
  50. 50. More effective than simply managing long-term health issues
  51. 51. Technological barriers falling
  52. 52. Ageing populations mean new markets for biotech firms
  53. 53. Risk of profiling and discrimination by insurers and employers
  54. 54. Potential for sports doping, improving stamina and endurance.
  55. 55. Can you just ‘turn on’ loyalty or courage? Should you?
  56. 56. Shouldn’t we try to improve life? Don’t we do that already?
  57. 57. Prosthetics
  58. 58. Making good the loss of body function
  59. 59. i-limb Individually articulated fingers with variable force library of gestures managed via smartphone app
  60. 60. Nerve-controlled robot leg Connecting with the central nervous system to co-ordinate movements
  61. 61. Augmenting existing capabilities
  62. 62. Exoskeletons Giving shipyard workers the capacity to lift large weights
  63. 63. Google Glass
  64. 64. Moving from a deficit model to a sense of enlarging human capabilities
  65. 65. Frontiers: biohacking, performance art Stelarc Orlan
  66. 66. Perhaps today we need character to live with a prosthetic
  67. 67. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll need character to live without them
  68. 68. Networked minds
  69. 69. Idea of ‘network’ established in sociology Castells’ ‘network society’ Latour/Callon/Law ‘actor-network theory’
  70. 70. But ‘network’ more than a metaphor now
  71. 71. The web and internet have made us all nodes in a real network
  72. 72. (Most of us still use keyboards or glass screens to join in)
  73. 73. Using patterns of brain activity to directly control computers
  74. 74. Reading electroencephalograms and sending signals to software or hardware
  75. 75. Implants can affect more than motor function
  76. 76. “The pain, fear, anxiety and depression are pretty much completely gone”
  77. 77. Unpredictable effects in neurotypical or ‘healthy’ people
  78. 78. Commercial brain-computer interfaces also available NeuroSky Emotiv
  79. 79. From minds in networks to minds of networks
  80. 80. Algorithmic machine intelligence Amazon recommendations Contextual advertising
  81. 81. ‘Strong AI’ won’t be like the movies
  82. 82. But some version of it might care for you when you’re older
  83. 83. How can we develop new norms for online behaviour?
  84. 84. What new forms of agency are there?
  85. 85. How do networked prosthetics change our idea of the body?
  86. 86. How do we recognise machines as moral actors?
  87. 87. Implications
  88. 88. Tempting to ask, “what demands are made of character when everyone has superpowers?”
  89. 89. Our culture has some suggestions
  90. 90. ‘use my powers for good, not evil’
  91. 91. ‘with great power comes great responsibility’
  92. 92. But we won’t be a society of superheroes
  93. 93. Different augmentations will be chosen by (or imposed on) different people for different reasons
  94. 94. The effect of widespread technological augmentation will be to increase diversity
  95. 95. People will have a greater range of capabilities
  96. 96. There will be greater differences between people’s experience and perception
  97. 97. So people will need to be:
  98. 98. Sensitive to the differences between them and other people
  99. 99. Aware that they can’t tell what sort of capabilities other people have
  100. 100. Prepared for life with different powers, or none
  101. 101. Potential to give people the moral framework needed to adapt positively to an augmented world
  102. 102. But failure means letting technological capabilities lead the way “if we can do it, we should do it”
  103. 103. So there’s more need for character education than ever before
  104. 104. And more need to be clear what we mean by ‘character’
  105. 105. Thank you !