Sci + Society,

#119: The Ethics of Amplified Intelligence

March 11, 2016

If you are reading this post, chances are good that you have tried a cognition enhancing substance, or at least considered it.  (Heck, for the sake of inclusiveness, this could even include caffeine.)  I wonder, before you popped that little brain booster — did you consider the ethics of your action?

Did it matter that your performance-enhanced brain was operating at a higher level than that of your non-enhanced peers?

As the popularity of smart drugs and cognitive enhancement technologies becomes more widespread, questions of fairness rise to the surface.  We remember that along with the scientific question of can we is the ethical sibling question should we?

This week, Jesse and Professor-Philosopher Rebecca Roache — who lectures at Royal Holloway, University of London — explore the ethics of cognitive enhancement, beginning with questions of access to these new technologies.

The debate doesn’t end with egalitarianism.  Settle in for a deep dive into moral enhancement, issues of free will, and the implications of artificial intelligence.  Does what makes a being fully sentient also make it more culpably responsible?  Is this a binary yes/no or a sliding scale?

Some of these ideas have been explored in the past episodes featuring Calum Chase, John Danaher and David Pearce.  Professor Roache offers her own unique perspective, with Jesse acting as devil’s advocate.

Speaking of Ethical Considerations… [spoiler alert!]

Questions abound, speculation is rampant, definitive conclusions?  Somewhat sparse.

But one thing is certain.  Many of the “thought experiments” tossed around by past philosophers are quickly becoming more than just hypothetical armchair musings.

What happens to people’s responsibilities when they are cognitively enhanced?

How should a criminal — made more brilliantly nefarious by smart drugs — be punished?

Is it immoral not to raise the cognitive playing field for the masses if we have the means to do so…?

Or should the focus be on creating a few super-geniuses?  (Yes, a super-genius is a real thing and not just hyperbole).

When does a computer stop being just a great piece of technology and qualify as a sentient being?

What are the criteria for ascribing mental states to things that are not humans?  There is a difference between something acting as if it’s self-aware (remember the Baby Alive Doll?  — “she” eats, drinks, cries, etc.) and actually having awareness and experiencing pain.  How can we tell?

This sort of debate has absorbed animal lovers for years and just recently some countries (New Zealand, Quebec, and France) have awarded the sentient being status to animals.

The law can’t wait for philosophers to agree.

On the Brink of Applied Philosophy

As medical science and technology advances, these sorts of ethical issues will need to be addressed.  We, as a society, will need clear guidelines.

PS:  Count yourself among the superintelligent… Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Show Notes
  • 00:00:33

    Cognitive enhancement ethics and The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

  • 00:02:10

    This Week In Neuroscience: The Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize

  • 00:04:55

    The audience interaction section.

  • 00:06:36

    Introduction to Rebecca Roache

  • 00:07:23

    The just allocation of cognitive enhancement interventions

  • 00:09:56

    Will cognitive enhancement drugs get cheaper for the masses as they become more mainstream?

  • 00:11:08

    The government's role in society's views on smart drugs

  • 00:12:15

    Moral enhancement, thought experiments, and "responsible murder"

  • 00:15:38

    Legal implications of cognitive enhancement

  • 00:20:00

    How to increase the average intelligence of the species

  • 00:24:00

    Should we aim to create geniuses?

  • 00:25:42

    Will a computer's "life" ever be considered as important as a human's?

  • 00:33:28

    Will the law create guidelines for mistreatment of computers anyway?

  • 00:37:32

    Has there ever been a period of this much change before?

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