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Animal Enhancement as a Tool of Liberation
Kyle Munkittrick   Aug 4, 2011   Science Not Fiction  

Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens tomorrow, August 5th. Does it have anything important to say about human enhancement and/or animal uplift?

I went to the preview screening thinking Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be another anti-enhancement, “All scientists are Frankensteins trying to cheat nature” movie. But it caught me off guard, and I have rarely been so happy to be wrong.

The film treats the viewer to an entertaining exploration of animal rights, what it means to be human, and what’s at stake when it comes to enhancing our minds.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes is told from the perspective of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimp who is exposed to an anti-Alzheimer’s drug, ALZ-112, in the womb. ALZ-112 causes Caesar’s already healthy brain to develop more rapidly than either a chimp or human counterpart.

Due to a series of implausible but not unbelievable events, Caesar is raised by Will Rodman (James Franco), the scientist developing ALZ-112. Rodman is in part driven the desire to cure his father, Charles, (played masterfully by John Lithgow) who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As Caesar develops, his place in Will’s home becomes uncertain and his loyalty to humanity is called into question. After being mistreated, abandoned, and abused, Caesar uses his enhanced intelligence as a tool of self-defense and liberation for himself and his fellow apes.

That cognitive enhancement is a way of seeking liberty is a critical theme that gives Rise of the Apes a nuance and depth I was not anticipating. Though the apes are at times frightening, they are never monstrous or mindless. Though they are at times violent, they are never barbaric. Caesar and his comrades are oppressed and imprisoned—their enhancement is a means to freedom. There is less Frankenstein and more Flowers for Algernon in the film than the trailer lets on. It’s an action film with a brain.

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the beginning of a new series, I for one am excited by the potential for complexity and exploration of humanity and enhancement in the coming films.

What do you think about animal uplift? In response to this provocative new movie and Kyle’s article above, along with George Dvorsky’s article here, IEET has just posted a new poll for our readers. Give us your opinion!

Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


The Rats of NIMH has always been my all time favorite stories of enhancement.

Like the ‘Terminator’ movies, this one (I haven’t seen it) sounds to me like it’s warning us to be careful as we progress in our technology. It seems implausible that a group of enhanced apes could take over the whole world as shown in the popular series of movies preceding this but I think it’s good to be reminded of the dangers and not to be blinded by the ‘gee-whiz’ factor.

I loved the show because it reminded me of a time when my dad, step-mom, and I were invited to my grandmother’s common law husband’s great granddaughter’s Quinceanera (Mexican Celebration for girls who turn 15).  I was bored and decided to play with the sugar packets in front of me and noticed that on these packets were pictures of animals from the L.A. Zoo.  I could not resist when I found a packet with pictures of monkeys on it, so I went to my grandmother and said amid the blaring music, “Gwamma, Dad says that we evolved from apes.”

She gave me a curious look and exclaimed, “What!!!!?”

“Dad says we evolved from apes.”  I showed her the picture and asked, “Do you believe that too?”

She replied, with her 90-year old eyes of enlightenment and an endearing chuckle, “Oh, yes!  On your father’s father’s side!”

I quickly wrote my son after watching the show and told him it was about our family tree.  The story, although sad at times, was also inspiring, in my opinion, and far better than the earlier series of “Planet of the Apes” because I feel I could put my care into the hands of the animal kingdom before other humans because they are more loyal to the laws of nature than mankind with all his ingenious ingenuity.  I recommend it for Animal Rights Activists and people who suffer from brain related disorders like what I suffer from (Cerebellar Atrophy and a seizure disorder), and other brain disorders, disabilities, or illnesses.  I hope that the medical community develops something like ALZ-112, except without the ultimate effects that Charles experienced but instead with the miraculous, instantaneous results that Charles experienced for the duration of decades of a normal, prosperous life.  I doubt I will live to see that day, but I do pray to live to at least see it.  Nevertheless, I find glory in what I hope for, much of which I find in the story.

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