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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    The great enhancement debate
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    May 2008 issue of the Journal of Evolution and Technology, published a fascinating article titled: "All Together Now: Developmental and ethical considerations for biologically uplifting nonhuman animals".

    In the article, the author George Dvorsky argues the unconventional case that the future application of biological and other augmentation methods to animals for the purpose of endowing them with the necessary physical and mental capabilities that will allow them eventually to participate as equal agents in a futuristic multi-species society, is not only ethically conceivable but perhaps even an ethical necessity.

    Here are a few excerpts:

    From the introduction, on the general change of ethical attitude towards nonhuman animals:

    Recent initiatives in Spain and New Zealand seeking to establish legal personhood status for the great apes represent unprecedented steps in the history of the animal rights movement. Great apes are poised to be endowed with those rights that have traditionally been ascribed to humans, a development that would see their promotion from non-persons with property-like status to persons with real and enforceable protections. In all likelihood, and though it may take some time, other countries will follow suit.

    Humanity has been widening its moral purview for some time now. With rights potentially being passed down to the great apes, it can be said that humans are widening both their moral and social circles. This is a trend that will have profound implications for the relationship between humanity and nonhuman animals.

    As the potential for enhancement technologies migrates from the theoretical to the practical, a difficult and important decision will be imposed upon human civilization, namely the issue as to whether or not we are morally obligated to biologically enhance nonhuman animals and integrate them into a larger postbiological society.

    Animal uplifting, also referred to as biological uplift, or simply uplift, is the theoretical prospect of endowing nonhumans with greater capacities, including and especially increased intelligence.

    On the foundation of the moral argument for uplift:

    Given the very real potential for biological augmentation some time later this century, the means to better distribute primary goods will eventually come into being and will by consequence enter into the marketplace of distributable primary goods. To deny nonhumans access to enhancement technologies, therefore, would be a breach of distributive justice and an act of genetic or biological exceptionalism – the idea that one’s biological constitution falls into a special category of goods that lie outside other sanctioned or recognized primary goods. Such claims, as argued by Allen Buchanan and others, do not carry much moral currency.[29]

    Indeed, liberal theories of distributive justice necessarily provide for the elimination or mitigation of the undeserved effects of luck on welfare.[30] Fair equality of opportunity, argued Rawls, requires not merely that offices and positions be distributed on the basis of merit, but that all persons have reasonable opportunity to acquire the skills on the basis of which merit is assessed.[31] These skills, in the context of animal uplift, are the biological augmentations that would enable social interaction at the “human” level (at the very least).

    The idea of uplifting nonhuman animals and integrating them into a futuristic sentient society is both fascinating and courageous. There is no doubt that on the technological aspect the issue is still highly speculative, and on the ethical aspect it opens more riddles than it resolves. Nevertheless, Dvorsky describes an important and interesting trend: "humans are widening both their moral and social circles". It seems that this widening is indicative to a more general evolutionary motion of minding. The more the sphere of human knowledge is expanded, human conscious awareness expands in scope and depth. The more conscious awareness expands, the sphere of moral deliberation and moral responsibility expands, which finds its culmination in the expansion of empathy towards that which is increasingly different from us. It is this profound sense of empathy that will eventually drive human civilization towards a perpetual motion of overreaching its own borders, and expansion of identity by embracing widening spheres of intelligent lifeforms.

    The idea of uplift as described in Dvorsky's article can and should be taken further. If we leave for a moment the technological aspects that are involved, I do not see why uplift should stop with , by now, obvious candidates such as the great apes, dolphins, whales and others. Uplift, it seems, is an imperative of conscious intelligent life to expand. Though we do not have the capacity to uplift other lifeforms as yet, there is quite a strong argument we can already figure, why it will be ethical to exercise such a capacity if and when we will realize it. But then, following Dvorsky's arguments to their logical end, I can see no place where a line can be drawn marking the limits of the application of such capabilities. That is to say that if we consider the great apes, dolphins and such for uplift, we have to go as far as it goes, to all life forms at all stages of evolution that is. Otherwise, we necessarily infringe distributive justice at some point as Dvorsky writes:

    To deny nonhumans access to enhancement technologies, therefore, would be a breach of distributive justice and an act of genetic or biological exceptionalism – the idea that one’s biological constitution falls into a special category of goods that lie outside other sanctioned or recognized primary goods. Such claims, as argued by Allen Buchanan and others, do not carry much moral currency.

    Since we cannot arbitrarily draw a line and stay faithful to the ethical principle, we come if so to an interesting and provocative conclusion: In as much as it is technologically possible, it is morally desirable to apply uplift as a form of directed evolution, to all life forms.

    If we further explore this idea, it means that at the phase that human civilization is approaching culminating in technological singularity, a new ethical imperative is emerging: The commitment to the uplift and inclusion of all life forms, or in other words, the commitment to the accelerated evolution of all existing life forms to the stage of sapience. This emergence of an expanding ethical consideration, is inseparable from, and to my understanding, an essential mark of the evolution of minding, briefly described above.

    When expanded to the sphere of all life forms, however, the idea becomes much more intriguing: if we think about the great apes, we may have quite a good idea of what uplift might practically mean because in fact they are very similar to humans. We could imagine that increasing the ape's general intelligence, and endowing it with linguistic capabilities will make them pretty close to our idea of sapience even without radically changing their morphology and other distinctive characteristics of their nature (again it is a nature that humans observe and there is no easy way out from this conundrum) . But when we come to contemplate the accelerated evolution of other creatures towards sapience, what should be done is not obvious at all, not even in principle. How much directed intervention is plausible as compared to the ongoing blind evolutionary processes? Would it be possible to foresee entire evolutionary processes culminating in uplift? Could an entire ecology be optimized to yield the highest number of uplifted species? These are questions that as of now belong to the realm of science fiction, perhaps even fantasy, but the motive behind asking them is very real, because philosophical speculations such as this can teach us something important about the evolution of intelligence in general, and the evolution of the human species in particular. They can help us to see what kinds of philosophical riddles radically enhanced capabilities might bring up, and give us some clues as to how to design our future to be an interesting, elegant and beautiful future.

    Not only that, we can go yet further with uplift idea: our future understanding of evolutionary processes might perhaps allow us to explore not only existing life forms, but also potential life forms and whole ecologies that do not exist. The above mentioned ethical imperative will expand if so to include all forms of life, biological and otherwise, as they are and as they could possibly be. This might sound fantastic, and perhaps it is fantastic but it boils down to what seem to be a guiding principle in the evolution of minding: I call it here the Uplift Principle.

    The Uplift Principle: When a sapient species reaches a stage where it can perpetually uplift itself, this species will eventually chose (following its evolving ethical imperatives) to expand by exploring and uplifting all life forms conceivable to it.

    Interestingly, this invites a novel definition of the singularity as the stage when a civilization reaches a perpetual self uplifting capability, and thereby realizes the Uplift Principle. Singularity, thus understood, will not affect only humanity or a limited category of lifeforms, it will profoundly affect life at large and by that it gains the status of a universal event in that that its sphere of meaning and influence will perpetually expand without limit.

    In conclusion, the idea of uplift described in Dvorsky's article extrapolates an already existing trend of expanding the sphere of humanity's ethical consideration towards non human animals. This idea is further extrapolated here to expose its possible profound meaning and consequences in regards to the future evolution of human minding and the singularity. The synergetic expansion of human knowledge, consciousness, ethics and empathy can be shown to eventually bring about the a perpetual uplifting of all life towards sapience.
    Sat, Oct 11, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: polytopia, Uplift, Uplift Principle
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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