Human-Tech: Ethical and Scientific Foundations

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It seems that each week or so, the headlines herald a new medical or scientific breakthrough. In the last few years, for instance, researchers have implanted artificial retinas to give blind patients partial sight. Still others have created synthetic blood substitutes , which could soon be used in human patients. To those who support human enhancement, many of whom call themselves transhumanists, technological breakthroughs like these are springboards not only to healing people but to changing and improving humanity. Up to this point, they say, humans have largely worked to control and shape their exterior environments because they were powerless to do more.

But transhumanists predict that a convergence of new technologies will soon allow people to control and fundamentally change their bodies and minds. The science that underpins transhumanist hopes is impressive, but there is no guarantee that researchers will create the means to make super-smart or super-strong people. Questions remain about the feasibility of radically changing human physiology, in part because scientists do not yet completely understand our bodies and minds.

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For instance, researchers still do not fully comprehend how people age or fully understand the source of human consciousness. There also is significant philosophical, ethical and religious opposition to transhumanism. Many thinkers from different disciplines and faith traditions worry that radical changes will lead to people who are no longer either physically or psychologically human. We are already living in an age of enhancement. Even minor enhancements, critics say, may end up doing more harm than good. For instance, they contend, those with enhancements may lack empathy and compassion for those who have not chosen or cannot afford these new technologies.

Indeed, they say, transhumanism could very well create an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots and lead to new kinds of exploitation or even slavery. Given that the science is still at a somewhat early stage, there has been little public discussion about the possible impacts of human enhancement on a practical level. But a new survey by Pew Research Center suggests wariness in the U. And a majority of U. And yet, perhaps ironically, enhancement continues to captivate the popular imagination. Many of the top-grossing films in recent years in the United States and around the world have centered on superheroes with extraordinary abilities, such as the X-Men, Captain America, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.

Such films explore the promise and pitfalls of exceeding natural human limits. In the Greek myth, Daedalus fashioned wax and feather wings so that he and son Icarus could fly. But Icarus fell to his death because he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax. The ancient Greeks told of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, and Daedalus, the skilled craftsman, who made wings for himself and his son, Icarus. Of course, while Adam and Eve gained a new awareness and self-understanding, their actions also led to their expulsion from paradise and entry into a much harder world full of pain, shame and toil.

This theme — that hidden dangers may lurk in something ostensibly good — runs through many literary accounts of enhancement. Whether these fears surrounding human enhancement are real or unfounded is a question already being debated by ethicists, scientists, theologians and others.

This report looks at that debate, particularly in light of the diverse religious traditions represented in the United States. First, though, the report explains some of the scientific developments that might form the basis of an enhancement revolution. O n Feb. The first prototypes already are being built, and if all goes as planned, American soldiers may soon be much stronger and largely impervious to bullets. If the NHS moves ahead with its plans, it would be the first time people receive blood created in a lab.

While the ultimate aim of the effort is to stem blood shortages, especially for rare blood types, the success of synthetic blood could lay the foundation for a blood substitute that could be engineered to carry more oxygen or better fight infections. In April , scientists from the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, revealed that they had implanted a chip in the brain of a quadriplegic man. Roughly around the same time, Chinese researchers announced they had attempted to genetically alter embryos to make them HIV resistant. Only four of the embryos were successfully changed and all were ultimately destroyed.

Moreover, the scientists from the Guangzhou Medical University who did the work said its purpose was solely to test the feasibility of embryo gene editing, rather than to regularly begin altering embryos. As these examples show, many of the fantastic technologies that until recently were confined to science fiction have already arrived, at least in their early forms. The road to TALOS, brain chips and synthetic blood has been a long one that has included many stops along the way.

Geoengineering and Environmental Ethics

Many of these advances come from a convergence of more than one type of technology — from genetics and robotics to nanotechnology and information technology. In the field of biotechnology, a big milestone occurred in , when American biologist James Watson and British physicist Francis Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA — the famed double helix — that is the genetic blueprint for life. Almost 50 years later, in , two international teams of researchers led by American biologists Francis Collins and Craig Venter succeeded in decoding and reading that blueprint by identifying all of the chemical base pairs that make up human DNA.

Finding the blueprint for life, and successfully decoding and reading it, has given researchers an opportunity to alter human physiology at its most fundamental level. Manipulating this genetic code — a process known as genetic engineering — could allow scientists to produce people with stronger muscles, harder bones and faster brains. In recent years, the prospect of advanced genetic engineering has become much more real, largely due to two developments.

First, inexpensive and sophisticated gene mapping technology has given scientists an increasingly more sophisticated understanding of the human genome. While gene editing itself is not new, CRISPR offers scientists a method that is much faster, cheaper and more accurate. CRISPR is already dramatically expanding the realm of what is possible in the field of genetic engineering. Indeed, on June 21, , the U.

An even more intriguing possibility involves making genetic changes at the embryonic stage, also known as germline editing. Those at the conference also raised another concern: the idea of using the new technologies to edit embryos for non-therapeutic purposes. Under this scenario, parents could choose a variety of options for their unborn children, including everything from cosmetic traits, such as hair or eye color, to endowing their offspring with greater intellectual or athletic ability.

Some transhumanists see a huge upside to making changes at the embryonic level. Eugenics ultimately inspired forced sterilization laws in a number of countries including the U. There also may be practical obstacles.

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  • Some worry that there could be unintended consequences, in part because our understanding of the genome, while growing, is not even close to complete. For many transhumanists, expanding our capacities begins with the organ that most sets humans apart from other animals: the brain. Right now, cognitive enhancement largely involves drugs that were developed and are prescribed to treat certain brain-related conditions, such as Ritalin for attention deficit disorder or modafinil for narcolepsy.

    These and other medications have been shown in lab tests to help sharpen focus and improve memory. Sorry, but we can't respond to individual comments. Recent searches Clear All. Update Location. If you want NextDay, we can save the other items for later. Yes—Save my other items for later. No—I want to keep shopping. Order by , and we can deliver your NextDay items by. In your cart, save the other item s for later in order to get NextDay delivery.

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    We moved your item s to Saved for Later. There was a problem with saving your item s for later. You can go to cart and save for later there. Human-Tech: Ethical and Scientific Foundations. Average rating: 0 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews Write a review. Kim J Vicente. Tell us if something is incorrect. While the pragmatic criticisms council a clear-eyed moral and practical skepticism about technological fixes, they are not rejected out of hand.

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    Technological fixes can serve an ameliorative role that may be good enough, or the best that can be done. Geoengineering proposals are classic examples of technological fixes. They define climate change as either an imbalance in the carbon cycle or solar budget. The ranges of solutions offered by geoengineering are large-scale technological schemes that manipulate one of these imbalances to offset global warming.

    All of the potential benefits of using technological fixes listed above have been given to justify research into geoengineering. It is widely agreed that climate change is a moral and political problem.

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    • But for those who are worried that moral and political processes will not act in time, the contrasting simplicity of geoengineering recommends research. In addition, it is argued that policymakers need more alternatives and that geoengineering could be a much-needed strategy to buy time until the problem can be dealt with on a deeper level Gardiner However, for each of these benefits pragmatic criticisms of technological fixes have been raised Robock For example, while SRM schemes might address the problem of rising temperatures, they would also allow the associated problem of ocean acidification due to rising concentrations of CO 2 in the atmosphere to increase in severity.

      Human-Tech: Ethical and Scientific Foundations (Human Technology Interaction Series)

      In addition, there are some worries that stratospheric aerosols would have the unintended consequence of contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. Moreover, geoengineering projects will not act uniformly on the climate, and will likely change precipitation patterns, which in turn may impact agricultural production. This could inadvertently benefit some countries, while harming others. The most significant moral problem for geoengineering is who gets to set the criteria for success, and how broadly or narrowly success is defined. When it comes to geoengineering there are many actors that have divergent interests Gardener The criteria for a successful geoengineering proposal will no doubt vary widely, and there will be winners and losers.

      In evaluating geoengineering from these two perspectives in environmental ethics, it is obvious that neither would welcome geoengineering. On the one hand, from the perspective of a deep critique of technological culture, geoengineering should be opposed. This technological fix for climate change would reinforce the destructive tendencies of a misguided worldview.