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University Students Define the Future Ethics They Want
Hank Pellissier   Oct 1, 2012   Ethical Technology  

College kids tell me what Tomorrow’s Ethics should look like… here’s the viewpoints of the USA’s Academic Top 10%…

On October 2, I surveyed an auditorium of 400 freshmen at the University of California, in Santa Cruz. The audience was 55% male, 45% female. My questions were on a wide variety of transhumanist topics, similar to the Terasem Survey.

Here’s the opinion that was expressed by the USA’s Academic Top 10%  (that’s the percentile one needs to belong to for acceptance into the UC system). The “survey” is just a very rough estimate, taken by a quick show of hands, so I cannot claim accuracy any closer than… 10-12%. Additionally, the faculty voted along with the students.

(There are additional criticisms of my “methodology” in comments, made by one of the attending teachers. See Below)

Artificial Wombs: Is developing this technology ethical and advisable? (question refers to this essay)

Yes - 80%
No - 20%


Is it ethical for high IQ sperm and eggs to be available, at a cost only the wealthy can afford?

Yes - 50%
No - 30%
Undecided - 20%


Is it ethical to sell your bodily organs?

Yes - 80%
No - 5%
Undecided - 15%

is it ethical to cut off your penis, if you want to? (question refers to this essay)

Yes - 80%
No - 10%
Undecided - 10%


Is it ethical to select the gender of your baby?

Yes - 15%
No - 80%
Undecided - 5%

(there was discussion beforehand about the feticide of girls in India and China)


Should all parents be licensed; no one can be a parent unless they pass a test?

Yes - 60%
No - 20%
Undecided - 20%

(many of these questions are drawn from my essay, Ban Baby-Making Unless Parents Are Licensed)


Should alcoholics and drug addicts be prevented from having babies, due to high risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and other problems caused by substance abuse?

Yes - 70%
No - 20%
Undecided - 10%


Should people convicted of violent crime be prevented from having children?

Yes - 40%
No - 40%
Undecided - 20%


Should people carrying serious genetic diseases be prevented from having children?

Yes - 30%
No - 70%


Should psychopaths be allowed to have children?

Yes - 33%
No - 66%

(I explained that inheriting psychopathology is 50%)


Should there be 100% Transparency? Everybody knows everything about everybody else?

Yes - 10%
No - 80%
Undecided - 10%

(question is from this essay)


Should people be microchipped, so they all identification embedded in their body?

Yes - 20%
No - 80%

(question is from essay HERE)


Is it dangerous, and/or unwise, to develop robots that are smarter than humans?

Yes - 80%
No - 20%


Is it ethical to develop robots with human intelligence, but program them for slavery?

Yes - 40%
No - 35%
Undecided - 25%


Is it ethical to develop robots as sex companions, or is this a form of sex slavery?

Yes - 45%
No - 45%
Undecided - 10%


Should people be allowed to marry robots, if the robots have human intelligence?

Yes - 35%
No - 45%
Undecided - 20%


Should people be allowed to adopt robots with human intelligence - as children?

Yes - 30%
No - 50%
Undecided - 20%


Should we accept robot police officers?

Yes - 30%
No - 40%
Undecided - 30%


Should we accept robot teachers, principals, and school administrators?

Yes - 30%
No - 60%
Undecided - 10%


Should we accept robot lawyers, judges, and jury members?

Yes - 20%
No - 70%
Undecided - 10%


Should we accept robot computer programmers in high level positions?

Yes - 10%
No - 70%
Undecided - 20%


Should animals be experimented on for research purposes?

Yes - 50%
No - 40%
Undecided - 10%


Should we forbid enslavement (i.e., captivity) of animals that have higher consciousness?

Yes - 50%
No - 40%
Undecided - 10%


Is it a human responsibility to enhance animals that can be educated, like dolphins or the great apes?

Yes - 5%
No - 50%
Undecided—45%


Is it ethical to use independent autonomous weaponry?

Yes - 65%
No - 25%
Undecided - 10%


If we can, should we bring back Neanderthal man? For research purposes? Is this ethical?

Yes - 30%
No - 60%
Undecided - 10%


Should churches be taxed?

Yes - 50%
No - 20%
Undecided - 30%

(question is from this essay)


Should religious instruction be banned to minors, because it’s a form of child abuse?

Yes - 10%
No - 50%
Undecided - 40%


Should “One Nation Under God” be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?

Yes - 66%
No - 33%


Should all politicians running for office be given public, televised lie detector tests?

Yes - 90%
No - 10%


After gay marriage is legalized, do you think polygamous unions should be legalized?

Yes - 40%
No - 30%
Undecided - 30%

(from this essay)


Do you think living 200 years (in good health) would be boring?

Yes - 20%
No - 80%


Do you think living 500 years would be boring?

Yes - 50%
No - 50%



Do you think meat production, i.e., raising livestock, should be outlawed if it presents a serious environmental problem?

Yes - 55%
No - 45%


If “in-vitro meat” is developed, should real meat be outlawed?

Yes - 50%
No - 50%

(from this essay)

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.



COMMENTS

What would qualify the top 10% of American students to be: (a) the best ethicists, (b) ethicists worth polling at all?  And since when is ethics determined by popular vote?

I imagine very few of them could sustain a non-contradictory position on these issues.

@Henry—yes, many of their positions are contradictory.
The students are not ethicists, they are just students, but they represent the best-educated demographic in their age group and thus their viewpoint is worth tracking, IMO.

Also, I am so used to polling transhumanists - that it is illuminating to now record the more mainstream, centrist opinions.

Also, since ethics is a matter of choice - rather than of truth (except insofar as ethical views are based on or shaped by empirical beliefs), it is not an area where “experts” necessarily know better than anyone else. In fact, some ethicists I have debated with over the last two or three years seem to me to be some of the worst offenders in conflating their personal (moral) preferences with empirical reality.

As Hank says, the viewpoint of the best educated young adults is most definitely worth tracking.

@Henry, I’d agree. I am one of the students that attended the mass survey and found that many of our differing opinions were contradictory to questions we had answered prior. 

I would say these percentages are within a 15% margin of error.

I was a member of the UCSC audience during your presentation, and this article misrepresents the nature of what occurred. Specifically, this write-up implies a level of methodological precision that was not present, and as a result, the information that you provide cannot be substantiated.

1. At the start of the presentation, students were told that for each question, they could choose from three response categories: “Yes”, “No”, and “I don’t know.” Yet, you only offered all three response categories for some of the questions.

2. The numbers you arrived at were “eye-balled”. That is, you stood at the front of the room (filled with hundreds of students) and took a rough, one- or two-second assessment of how many hands were raised. The results you report here also fail to indicate the number of students who did not respond at all (that is, not every student responded to every question). As a researcher, I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable making claims about figures that are this imprecise. There’s an easy solution to this—use clickers or ask students to complete a written questionnaire. A side question: How did you arrive at n=400?

3. The questions students answered were often changed or modified based on clarifications they sought before they voted. Because of this, you can’t compare results across survey sessions, and you shouldn’t imply that the students’ responses were in direct response to the questions you offer above. The question about removing one’s penis was, for instance, prefaced by an anecdote involving a young man who removed his organ and sold tickets to a dinner at which he served it as part of a meal. I would expect that this story would shape the way survey respondents “take up” the question. In addition, I don’t recall question #2 (high IQ sperm) being asked. Perhaps it took a different form?

4. Several survey questions were misunderstood by students. The question about autonomous weaponry was especially problematic in this regard. It was clear that some students did not understand that the question was asking them to deliberate about “humans using weapons from remote locations” until AFTER you’d taken the vote. (Their vocalizations indicated as much.)

5. Several of the survey questions contained more than one question, so the results need to be tossed because you don’t know which question students were answering. For instance, you asked if “Is it dangerous, and/or unwise, to develop robots that are smarter than humans?”. Dangerous and unwise are not the same thing. This is an example of a double-barreled question, and any handbook on survey methodology would tell you to avoid writing questions like this.

6. The sample population comprised students AND faculty. You specifically stated at the start of your presentation that “faculty could vote”. You don’t mention this in your write-up of the results.

When I discussed your presentation with my students, they indicated that they did enjoy it. In fact, many of them told me that they continued to discuss the topics you raised (especially, it seems, the questions about robots) after the presentation ended. That’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, if my students were to use this report as a source in an essay, I’d have to direct them to eliminate it during revision; this report (as currently written) misrepresents what “went down” in the auditorium that night.

tl;dr: You took an informal poll of students by asking for a show of hands. The research conditions were insufficient to constitute a survey. The write-up is inaccurate.

Hi Heather—

I am glad your students enjoyed it.
I apologize for any and all sloppiness on my part, that you have noted.
I don’t think the number of faculty present affected the percentile.
I don’t have any educational background in taking surveys; I recently completed an extensive survey of transhumanists, but I was assisted in that endeavor by a colleague who had training.
The 90 minutes I spent with your class was devised by me as a “fun way” to engage the students in a wide variety of ethical questions.
Of course “the show of hands” counting isn’t “accurate” but I am sure it recorded majority and minority viewpoints for every question, and is within 10% accuracy. I did have the best vantage point in the classroom for viewing.

I have noted your criticisms in the body of the text - I rewrote it to include your remarks and to more accurately report on how the “survey” was conducted, i.e., via the show of hands, with teacher votes recorded, etc.

thanks!

I totally agree with Peter re “since ethics is a matter of choice - rather than of truth, it is not an area where “experts” necessarily know better than anyone else.”

 

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