Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies



Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view



UPCOMING EVENTS: Affiliate Scholar



MULTIMEDIA: Affiliate Scholar Topics

Brett Frischmann on Reverse Turing Tests and Machine-like Humans

Danaher Interview on Robot Overlordz Podcast about Algocracy

Algocracy and Transhumanism Podcast: Deborah Lupton on the Quantified Self

Algocracy and Transhuamnism Podcast: Hannah Maslen on the Ethics of Neurointerventions

Evan Selinger on Algorithmic Outsourcing and the Value of Privacy

Algocracy: Opportunities and Risks (videocast with Adam Ford)

The Algocracy and Transhumanism Podcast: Episode 3

The Algocracy and Transhumanism Podcast: Episode 2

Episode #1- Tal Zarsky on the Ethics of Big Data and Predictive Analytics

Surrogacy Conference

Hamlet’s Transhumanist Dilemma: Will Technology Replace Biology?

Ken Hayworth - Verifiable Brain Preservation

Future “Bodyshops”

Podcast Interview - Is High Tech Turning Us Into the Borg?

Powerful Nonsense Ep 95 - Finding meaning in an automated world




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Affiliate Scholar Topics




Skepticism and the Meaning of Life

by John G. Messerly

I received a correspondence from a reader who wonders about “the triumph of judgment over spontaneity as we emerge from childhood into adulthood and the consequent obstacle it poses for living in psychic comfort.” In other words she worries about how to reconcile “a naturally felt purposefulness and zest for life against an intellectual sense of life’s essential pointlessness and its indifference to human concerns that give rise to the recognition of absurdity.” The only consolation she experiences is with her grandchildren “as they go about engaging the world with perfect unmediated wonder, boundless energy, and demands for attention.”



Moral Enhancement and Moral Freedom: A Critical Analysis

by John Danaher

The debate about moral neuroenhancement has taken off in the past decade. Although the term admits of several definitions, the debate primarily focuses on the ways in which human enhancement technologies could be used to ensure greater moral conformity, i.e. the conformity of human behaviour with moral norms. Imagine you have just witnessed a road rage incident. An irate driver, stuck in a traffic jam, jumped out of his car and proceeded to abuse the driver in the car behind him. We could all agree that this contravenes a moral norm. And we may well agree that the proximate cause of his outburst was a particular pattern of activity in the rage circuit of his brain. What if we could intervene in that circuit and prevent him from abusing his fellow motorists? Should we do it?



How our police became storm troopers, redux

by Rick Searle

Give events of late I thought it relevant to re-post this piece from the summer of 2014 on the militarization of policing. Sadly, almost nothing has changed, except that my prediction that police would start using robots to kill people has come true, though in a way I certainly did not anticipate. I haven’t changed anything from the original post besides cleaning up the some of the shitty grammar and adding the mind-blowing photo by Jonathan Bachman, a freelancer for Reuters. If they have history books in 20 years time that photo will be in them.



How To Live With Doubt About Life’s Meaning

by John G. Messerly

I received a correspondence from a reader who wonders about “the triumph of judgment over spontaneity as we emerge from childhood into adulthood and the consequent obstacle it poses for living in psychic comfort.” In other words she worries about how to reconcile “a naturally felt purposefulness and zest for life against an intellectual sense of life’s essential pointlessness and its indifference to human concerns that give rise to the recognition of absurdity.” The only consolation she experiences is with her grandchildren “as they go about engaging the world with perfect unmediated wonder, boundless energy, and demands for attention.”



Agential Risks: A New Direction for Existential Risk Studies

There are two ways to avoid an existential catastrophe involving advanced technologies, such as nuclear weapons, biotechnology, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. First, we could study the technologies and figure out ways to make them more difficult for malicious agents to exploit. And second, we could study the malicious agents and figure out ways of reducing the probability of them wanting to exploit such technologies.

Full Story...
Link to X-Risks Institute's Technical Reports



Reverse Turing Tests: Are Humans Becoming More Machine-Like?

by John Danaher

Everyone knows about the Turing Test. It was first proposed by Alan Turing in his famous 1950 paper ‘On Computing Machinery and Intelligence’. The paper started with the question ‘Can a machine think?’. Turing noted that philosophers would be inclined to answer that question by hunting for a definition. They would identify the necessary and sufficient conditions for thinking and then they would try to see whether machines met those conditions. They would probably do this by closely investigating the ordinary language uses of the term ‘thinking’ and engaging in a series of rational reflections on those uses. At least, Oxbridge philosophers in the 1950s would have been inclined to do it this way.



IEET Affiliate Scholar Franco Cortese Publishes Article in International Journal of Technoethics

The Technoethical Ethos of Technic Self-Determination

This paper addresses concerns that the development and proliferation of Human Enhancement Technologies (HET) will be (a) dehumanizing and (b) a threat to our autonomy and sovereignty as individuals. The paper argues contrarily that HET constitutes nothing less than one of the most effective foreseeable means of increasing the autonomy and sovereignty of individual members of society. Furthermore, it elaborates the position that the use of HET exemplifies – and indeed even intensifies – our most human capacity and faculty: namely the desire for increased self-determination, which is referred to as the will toward self-determination. Based upon this position, the paper argues that the use of HET bears fundamental ontological continuity with the human condition in general and with the historically-ubiquitous will toward self-determination in particular. HET will not be a dehumanizing force, but will rather serve to increase the very capacity that characterizes us as human more accurately than anything else.

Full Story...
Link to International Journal of Technoethics



Moral Uncertainty and Moral Enhancement

by John Danaher

[This is the rough draft of a paper I presented at the RIP Moral Enhancement Conference at Exeter on the 7th July 2016]

Some people are frightened of the future. They think humanity is teetering on the brink. Something radical must be done to avoid falling over the edge. This is the message underlying Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu’s book Unfit for the Future. In it they argue that humanity faces several significant existential risks (e.g. anthropocentric climate change, weapons of mass destruction, loss of biodiversity etc.).



Beware the Rise of Gerontocracy: Some Hard Lessons for Transhumanism, Not Least from Brexit

by Steve Fuller

Transhumanists will know that the science fiction author Zoltan Istvan has unilaterally leveraged the movement into a political party contesting the 2016 US presidential election. To be sure, many transhumanists have contested Istvan’s own legitimacy, but there is no denying that he has generated enormous publicity for many key transhumanist ideas. Interestingly, his lead idea is that the state should do everything possible to uphold people’s right to live forever. Of course, he means to live forever in a healthy state, fit of mind and body. Istvan cleverly couches this policy as simply an extension of what voters already expect from medical research and welfare provision. And while he may be correct, the policy is fraught with hazards – especially if, as many transhumanists believe, we are on the verge of revealing the secrets to biological immortality.



The Community Delusion: “We” are not the world.

by Rene Milan

Over the last few decades one hears the term ‘community’ bandied about with increasing frequency.  The most quoted is in my anecdotal memory the ‘black community’.  One also often hears about the ‘gay community’ and more recently the ‘lgbt (or lgbtq) community’.



Bertrand Russell on Fearing Thought

by John G. Messerly

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. ~ Bertrand Russell



A Transhumanist Wants to be US President?

by Roland Benedikter

Unnoted by many, the transhumanist forerunner Zoltan Istvan has founded the “U.S. Transhumanist Party” and is running for U.S. president in the November 2016 election. He is touring the nation in his campaign vehicle, the “Immortality Bus,” since one of his promises is: “Do you want to live forever? Vote for me!”  Like other transhumanists, Istvan aims at opening up new political perspectives, if not even a “post-ideological” political sphere characterized by technological universalism. TLR spoke with political and social analyst Roland Benedikter about the backgrounds and the perspectives. The interview builds on previous interviews and articles of Benedikter, for example HERE and HERE.

Originally published on the Leftist Review on June 30 2016



Existential Risks Are More Likely to Kill You Than Terrorism

by Phil Torres

People tend to worry about the wrong things.

According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, 51% of Americans are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that a family member will be killed by terrorists. Another Gallup Poll found that 11% of Americans are afraid of “thunder and lightning.” Yet the average person is at least four times more likely to die from a lightning bolt than a terrorist attack.



Is America on the Verge of Civil War?

by John G. Messerly

While the idea may sound absurd, it happened just a few generations ago. The industrial north and the slave-holding, agrarian south couldn’t agree on, among other things, the extension of slavery into new states, as both sides didn’t want the other to gain a congressional voting advantage. A series of compromises over many years maintained the delicate balance, but gradually the two sides became more partisan, the rhetoric more divisive, and civil discourse eventually disappeared. Soon violence would be used to adjudicate their disputes, with the south firing the first shot. Within four years 700,000 Americans were dead, thousands more injured, homeless, widowed or orphaned. If that proportion of Americans were killed today, about 8 million Americans would die. The south thought that slavery and the lifestyle it provided were worth dying and killing for … and die and kill they did.



The Machine Made me Do It: Human responsibility in an era of machine-mediated agency

by John Danaher

[This the text of a talk I’m delivering at the ICM Neuroethics Network in Paris this week]

Santiago Guerra Pineda was a 19-year old motorcycle enthusiast. In June 2014, he took his latest bike out for a ride. It was a Honda CBR 600, a sports motorcycle with some impressive capabilities. Little wonder then that he opened it up once he hit the road. But maybe he opened it up a little bit too much? He was clocked at over 150mph on the freeway near Miami Beach in Florida. He was going so fast that the local police decided it was too dangerous to chase him. They only caught up with him when he ran out of gas.



Before the artisanal cheese comes the darkness

by Rick Searle

In 1832 the English architect, Augustus Pugin, published his beautiful book Contrasts. The book was full of sketches in which Pugin juxtaposed the bland, utilitarian architecture of the 19th century with the intricate splendor of buildings built in medieval Europe.



Getting Better: From Naive to Deliberate Practice

by John Danaher

I would like to be a better swimmer, a better runner, a better guitarist, a better singer, a better lecturer, a better writer, a better organiser, a better partner, and generally a better person. But how can I achieve all these things? I have no method. I approach things haphazardly, hoping that sheer repetition will lead to betterment. This hope is probably forlorn.



The Ethics of Algorithmic Outsourcing: An Analysis

by John Danaher

Our smart phones, smart watches, and smart bands promise a lot. They promise to make our lives better, to increase our productivity, to improve our efficiency, to enhance our safety, to make us fitter, faster, stronger and more intelligent. They do this through a combination of methods. One of the most important is outsourcing,* i.e. by taking away the cognitive and emotional burden associated with certain activities. Consider the way in which Google maps allows us to outsource the cognitive labour of remembering directions. This removes a cognitive burden and potential source of anxiety, and enables us to get to our destinations more effectively. We can focus on more important things. It’s clearly a win-win.



Imagining the Anthropocene

by Rick Searle

Almost a year ago now, while reading an article by the historian Yuval Harari in the British newspaper The Guardian, I had a visceral experience of what it means to live in the Anthropocene. Harari’s piece was about the horrors of industrial meat production, and as evidence of the scale of the monstrosity, he listed a set of facts that I had either not known, or had never taken the time to fully contemplate.



Does Self-Tracking Promote Autonomy? An Initial Argument

by John Danaher

Seneca was a wealthy Roman stoic and advisor to the emperor Nero. In the third of his Letters from a Stoic, entitled ‘On True and False Friendship’, he makes the following observation:

As to yourself, although you should live in such a way that you trust your own self with nothing which you could not entrust even to your own enemy, yet, since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret, you should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections.



Review of Bryan Magee’s, “Ultimate Questions”

by John G. Messerly

Bryan Magee (1930 – ) has had a multifaceted career as a professor of philosophy, music and theater critic, BBC broadcaster, public intellectual and member of Parliament. He has starred in two acclaimed television series about philosophy: Men of Ideas (1978) and The Great Philosophers (1987). He is best known as a popularizer of philosophy. His easy-to-read books, which have been translated into more than twenty languages, include:



The Monotony of Work

by John G. Messerly

I corresponded with an old friend yesterday who was communicating the tedium of his work as a software engineer. He is thankful that he earns a six-figure salary, and he understands that most people in the world would happily trade places with him, but that doesn’t change the fact that a future filled with a lifetime of coding doesn’t excite his probing and restless mind. Minds like his need stimulation, and they could contribute so much to the rest of us if they were freed to follow their interests . Moreover, while technology companies pay some of the best wages in the United States, they expect more than 40 hours of work in return, which leaves my friend with less time with his children than he would like.



Is Effective Altruism Fair to Small Donors? (Guest Post by Iason Gabriel)

by John Danaher

NOTE: This is a guest post by Iason Gabriel from St. John’s College Oxford. I recently did a series on Iason’s excellent article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’. In this post, Iason develops his counterfactual critique of effective altruism. Be sure to check out more of Iason’s work on his academia page.)



Is Effective Altruism actually Effective?

by John Danaher

(Part one; part two; part three)

This is going to be my final post on the topic of effective altruism (for the time being anyway). I’m working my way through the arguments in Iason Gabriel’s article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’. Once I finish, Iason has kindly agreed to post a follow-up piece which develops some of his views.



Developing countries – help yourselves! A case study of Kazakhstan

by Ilia Stambler

On May 19, 2016, the World Health Organization released its report “World Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” describing the recent state of global health. The news is rather encouraging. The global life expectancy increased by 5 years, from about 66.5 to 71.4 presently, recording the fastest increase since the 1960s. The rightly so-called “developing” countries generally showed a much faster improvement compared to the complacently “developed” ones. Thus, Africa generally had the lowest life expectancy.



IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher Publishes New Paper in Journal: Bioethics

IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher published a new paper coming out in the journal Bioethics. It’s about the philosophy of education and student use of cognitive enhancement drugs. It suggests that universities might be justified in regulating their students’ use of enhancement drugs, but only in a very mild, non-compulsory way. It suggests that a system of voluntary commitment contracts might be an interesting proposal. The details are below.

Full Story...
Link to Bioethics



Is Effective Altruism Methodologically Biased?

by John Danaher

(Part One; Part Two)

After a long hiatus, I am finally going to complete my series of posts about Iason Gabriel’s article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’ (changed from the original title ‘What’s wrong with effective altruism?). I’m pleased to say that once I finish the series I am also going to post a response by Iason himself which follows up on some of the arguments in his paper. Let me start today, however, by recapping some of the material from previous entries and setting the stage for this one.



IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher Publishes New Paper - Robots, Law and the Retribution Gap

Here is a new paper that John Danaher, IEET Affiliate Scholar, has published and will be coming out in the journal Ethics and Information Technology. In case you are interested, the idea for this paper originated in this blogpost from late 2014.

Full Story...
Link to Ethics and Information Technology



Vacancy - Research Assistant on the Algocracy and Transhumanism Project

IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher is hiring a research assistant as part of his Algocracy and Transhumanism project. It’s a short-term contract (5 months only) and available from July onwards. The candidate would have to be able to relocate to Galway for the period. Details below. Please share this with anyone you think might be interested.

Full Story...
Link to Algocracy and Transhumanism Project



William James: Once Born and Twice Born People

by John G. Messerly

William James, in his famous book The Varieties of Religious Experience,  draws a contrast between what he calls “once born” and the “twice born” people.  Once born people appear biologically predisposed to happiness. They are relatively untroubled by their own setbacks as well as by the suffering the world; they rarely speak ill of others; they don’t complain much; they tend not to be fearful or angry. Today we might call them happy-go-lucky, easy-going or upbeat.

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