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


MULTIMEDIA: John Danaher Topics

GMOs - Can We Stop With The Hysterics Already?

The Ethics of Human Enhancement

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John Danaher Topics

Does radical enhancement threaten our sense of self?

by John Danaher

If we extended our lives by 200 years, or if we succeeded in uploading our minds to an artificial substrate, would we undermine our sense of personal identity? If so, would it be wiser to avoid such radical forms of enhancement? These are the questions posed in chapter 4 of Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. Over the next two posts I’ll take a look at Agar’s answers. This is all part of my ongoing series of reflections on Agar’s book.

Will sex workers be replaced by robots? (A Precis)

by John Danaher

I recently published an article in the Journal of Evolution and Technology on the topic of sex work and technological unemployment (available here, here and here). It began by asking whether sex work, specifically prostitution (as opposed to other forms of labour that could be classified as “sex work”, e.g. pornstar or erotic dancer), was vulnerable to technological unemployment. It looked at contrasting responses to that question, and also included some reflections on technological unemployment and the basic income guarantee.

Should we bet on radical enhancement?

by John Danaher

This is the third part of my series on Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. As mentioned previously, Agar stakes out an interesting middle ground on the topic of enhancement. He argues that modest forms of enhancement — i.e. up to or slightly beyond the current range of human norms — are prudentially wise, whereas radical forms of enhancement — i.e. well beyond the current range of human norms — are not. His main support for this is his belief that in radically enhancing ourselves we will lose certain internal goods. These are goods that are intrinsic to some of our current activities.

Veridical Engagement and Radical Enhancement

by John Danaher

This is the second post in my series on Nicholas Agar's new book Truly Human Enhancement. The book offers an interesting take on the enhancement debate. It tries to carve out a middle ground between bioconservatism and transhumanism, arguing that modest enhancement (within or slightly beyond the range of human norms) is prudentially valuable, but that radical enhancement (well beyond the range of human norms) may not be.

The Objective and Anthropocentric Ideals of Enhancement

by John Danaher

Nicholas Agar has written several books about the ethics of human enhancement. In his latest, Truly Human Enhancement, he tries to stake out an interesting middle ground in the enhancement debate. Unlike the bioconservatives, Agar is not opposed to the very notion of enhancing human capacities. On the contrary, he is broadly in favour it. But unlike the radical transhumanists, he does not embrace all forms of enhancement.

Equality, Fairness and the Threat of Algocracy: Should we embrace automated predictive data-mining?

by John Danaher

I’ve looked at data-mining and predictive analytics before on this blog. As you know, there are many concerns about this type of technology and the increasing role it plays in our lives. Thus, for example, people are concerned about the oftentimes hidden way in which our data is collected prior to being “mined”. And they are concerned about how it is used by governments and corporations to guide their decision-making processes. Will we be unfairly targetted by the data-mining algorithms? Will they exercise too much control over socially important decision-making processes? I’ve reviewed some of these concerns before.

Game Theoretical Analysis of the Duel

by John Danaher

We’ve all been there. A good-natured dispute among friends escalates; one party insults the honour of another; and the situation can only be resolved with a duel. The two parties face each other down with pistols, and take alternating steps toward one another. They must decide when to shoot. Victory means life and honour restored; loss means death and dishonour. What will the outcome be?

Are there problems with the metaphor of mind-uploading?

by John Danaher

The dream of one day being able to upload your mind to a computer or other artificial device is shared by many transhumanists. Central to the dream is something we can call the “transference thesis”

Special Issue of JET: Hughes, Walker, Campa & Danaher on Tech Unemployment and BIG

The special issue of the Journal of Evolution and Technology is published and has nine essays on technological unemployment and the basic income guarantee, six of them by IEETers.

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Big Data and the Vices of Transparency

by John Danaher

Data-mining algorithms are increasingly being used to monitor and enforce governmental policies. For example, they are being used to shortlist people for tax auditing by the revenue services in several countries. They are also used by businesses to identify and target potential customers.

Is there a connection between human nature and moral norms?

by John Danaher

This post examines how natural lawyers view the connection between facts about human nature and ethical norms. To guide me through this difficult topic, I’m going to use an article by one of the leading contemporary natural lawyers, Patrick Lee. The article in question is called “Human Nature and Moral Goodness” and it appeared in the book The Normativity of the Natural: Human Goods, Human Virtues, and Human Flourishing.

Sex Work, Technological Unemployment and the Basic Income Guarantee

by John Danaher

Abstract: Is sex work (specifically, prostitution) vulnerable to technological unemployment? Several authors have argued that it is. They claim that the advent of sophisticated sexual robots will lead to the displacement of human prostitutes, just as, say, the advent of sophisticated manufacturing robots have displaced many traditional forms of factory labour. But are they right? In this article, I critically assess the argument that has been made in favour of this displacement hypothesis. Although I grant the argument a degree of credibility, I argue that the opposing hypothesis—that prostitution will be resilient to technological unemployment—is also worth considering. Indeed, I argue that increasing levels of technological unemployment in other fields may well drive more people into the sex work industry. Furthermore, I argue that no matter which hypothesis you prefer—displacement or resilience—you can make a good argument for the necessity of a basic income guarantee, either as an obvious way to correct for the precarity of sex work, or as a way to disincentivise those who may be drawn to prostitution.

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What’s the case for sousveillance? (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This series of blog posts is looking at arguments in favour of sousveillance. In particular, it is looking at the arguments proffered by one of the pioneers and foremost advocates of sousveillance: Steve Mann. The arguments in question are set forth in a pair of recent papers, one written by Mann himself, the other with the help of co-author Mir Adnan Ali. Part one clarified what was meant by the term “sousveillance”, and considered an initial economic argument in its favour. To briefly recap, “sousveillance” refers to the general use of veillance technologies (i.e. technologies that can capture and record data about other people) by persons who are not in authority.

What’s the case for sousveillance? (Part One)

by John Danaher

Steve Mann (pictured) has been described as the world’s first cyborg, and as a pioneer in wearable computing. He is certainly the latter. I’m not so sure about the former (I believe Mann rejects the title himself). He is also one of the foremost advocates for sousveillance in the contemporary era. Sousveillance is the inverse of surveillance. Instead of recording equipment solely being used by those in authority to record data about the rest of us, sousveillance advocates argue for a world in which ordinary citizens can turn the recording equipment back onto the authorities (and one another). This is thought to be beneficial in numerous ways.

How Many Methods of Mind-Uploading?

by John Danaher

I’ve written a few posts about mind-uploading, focusing mainly on its risks and philosophical problems. In each of these posts I’ve drawn distinctions between different varieties of “uploading” and suggested that some are less prone to risks and problems than others. So far, the distinctions I’ve drawn have been of my own choosing, based on what I’ve read about the topic over the years. But in his article “A Framework for Approaches to Transfer of a Mind’s Substrate”, Sim Bamford offers an alternative, slightly more sophisticated, framework for thinking about these issues. I want to share that framework in this post.

The Gamer’s Dilemma: Virtual Murder versus Virtual Paedophilia (Part Two)

by John Danaher

The Gamer’s Dilemma is the title of an article by Morgan Luck. We covered that article in part one. In brief, the article argues that there is something puzzling about attitudes toward virtual acts which, if they took place in the real world, would be immoral.  To be precise, there is something puzzling about attitudes toward virtual murder and virtual paedophilia.

The Gamer’s Dilemma: Virtual Murder versus Virtual Paedophilia (Part One)

by John Danaher

Modern video games give players the opportunity to engage in highly realistic depictions of violent acts. Among these is the act of virtual murder: the player’s character intentional kills someone in the game environment without good cause. Most avid gamers don’t seem overly concerned about this (reputed links between video games and violence notwithstanding). Nevertheless, when the possibility of other immoral virtual acts — say virtual paedophilia — is raised, people become rather more squeamish. Why is this? And is this double-standard justified?

Big Data, Predictive Algorithms and the Virtues of Transparency (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second part in a short series of posts on predictive algorithms and the virtues of transparency. The series is working off some ideas in Tal Zarsky’s article “Transparent Predictions”. The series is written against the backdrop of the increasingly widespread use of data-mining and predictive algorithms and the concerns this has raised.

Big Data, Predictive Algorithms and the Virtues of Transparency (Part One)

by John Danaher

Transparency is a much-touted virtue of the internet age. Slogans such as the “democratisation of information” and “information wants to be free” trip lightly off the tongue of many commentators; classic quotes, like Brandeis’s “sunlight is the best disinfectant” are trotted out with predictable regularity. But why exactly is transparency virtuous? Should we aim for transparency in all endeavours? Over the next two posts, I look at four possible answers to that question.

Rule by Algorithm? Big Data and the Threat of Algocracy

by John Danaher

An increasing number of people are worried about the way in which our data is being mined by governments and corporations. One of these people is Evgeny Morozov. In an article that appeared in the MIT Technology Review back in October 2013, he argued that this trend poses a serious threat to democracy, one that should be resisted through political activism and “sabotage”. As it happens, I have written about similar threats to democracy myself in the past, so I was interested to see how Morozov defended his view.

Is mind-uploading existentially risky? (Part Three)

by John Danaher

This is the third (and final) part in my ongoing series about the rationality of mind-uploading. The series deals with something called Searle’s Wager, which is an argument against the rationality of mind-uploading. The argument was originally developed by Nicholas Agar in his 2011 bookHumanity’s End. This series, however, covers a debate between Agar and Levy in the pages of the journal AI and Society. The first two parts discussed with Levy’s critique; this part discusses Agar’s response.

Is mind uploading existentially risky? (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second in a series of posts looking at Searle's Wager and the rationality of mind-uploading. Searle's Wager is an argument that was originally developed by the philosopher Nicholas Agar. It claims that uploading one's mind to a computer (or equivalent substrate) cannot be rational because there is a risk that it might entail death. I covered the argument on this blog back in 2011. In this series, I'm looking at a debate between Nicholas Agar and Neil Levy about the merits of the argument. The current focus is on Levy's critique.

Is mind uploading existentially risky? (Part One)

by John Danaher

A couple of years ago I wrote a series of posts about Nicholas Agar’s book Humanity’s End: Why we should reject radical enhancement. The book critiques the arguments of four pro-enhancement writers. One of the more interesting aspects of this critique was Agar’s treatment of mind-uploading. Many transhumanists are enamoured with the notion of mind-uploading, but Agar argued that mind-uploading would be irrational due to the non-zero risk that it would lead to your death. The argument for this was called Searle’s Wager, as it relied on ideas drawn from the work of John Searle.

Freedom: Non-Frustration, Non-Interference and Non-Domination (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second and final part in my series on the different conceptions of political freedom. The series is working from Philip Pettit's article "The Instability of Freedom as Noninterference: The Case of Isaiah Berlin". In this article, Pettit analyses three different conceptions of political freedom—freedom as non-frustration; freedom as non-interference; and freedom as non-domination—and makes an argument for the non-domination conception.

Freedom: Non-Frustration, Non-interference or Non-domination? (Part One)

by John Danaher

Freedom is an important ideal in liberal political theory, but what exactly does it entail? What do we have to do in order achieve the ideal of political freedom? How will we know if we have achieved it? The first step to answering these questions will be to provide some concrete conception of what it means to be free.

Pettit on Republicanism and the Basic Income

by John Danaher

As an addendum to my recent series on libertarianism and the basic income, I thought I would look at another political philosophy and the case it makes for the same proposal. The philosophy in question is civic republicanism, which has its roots in antiquity, but has most recently been defended by the philosopher Philip Pettit.

Libertarianism and the Basic Income (Part Three)

by John Danaher

This is the third, and final, part in my series on libertarianism and the basic income. To quickly recap, the universal basic income (UBI) is a proposal for reforming the way in which welfare is paid, moving away from a selective and conditional system of payment to a universal and unconditional one. Libertarianism is a political philosophical associated with the individual rights, the celebration of the free market, and the minimal state.

Libertarianism and the Basic Income (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second part in my series on libertarianism and the basic income. The universal basic income (UBI) is a proposal for reforming the way in which welfare is paid. It is thought to be radical because it is paid to everyone, regardless of their work status, or other sources of income. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is a political philosophy associated with robust negative and property rights, the promotion of the free market, and a minimal state.

Libertarianism and the Basic Income (Part One)

by John Danaher

I have recently become interested in the case for an unconditional basic income (UBI). In large part, this has been prompted by an increasing fascination with the phenomenon of technological unemployment and its future progression. Some argue that increasing levels of technological unemployment, and the associated capital-labour income inequality that comes with this, would be best solved by something like the UBI. This strikes me as a prima facie plausible argument.

The Ethics of Chemical Castration (Part One)

by John Danaher

Chemical castration has been legally recognised and utilised as a form of treatment for certain types of sex offender for many years. This is in the belief that it can significantly reduce recidivism rates amongst this class of offenders. Its usage varies around the world. Nine U.S. states currently allow for it, as well as several European countries. Typically, it is presented as an “option” to sex offenders who are currently serving prison sentences. The idea being that if they voluntarily submit to chemical castration they can serve a reduced sentence.

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