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Archive for the ‘ethics’ category

Feb 22, 2017

Why I Will No Longer Do Research Sponsored By The Department Of Homeland Security

Posted by in categories: education, ethics, government, security

“As academics we can sign petitions, but it is not enough.”

As academics we can sign petitions, but it is not enough. Scott Aaronson wrote very eloquently about this issue after the initial ban was announced (see also Terry Tao). My department has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of applicants in general and not just from Iran. We were just informed that we can no longer make Teaching Assistant offers for students who are unlikely to get a visa to come here.

The Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated its blatant disregard for moral norms. Why should we trust its scientific norms? What confidence do we have that funding will not be used in some coercive way? What does it say to our students when we ask them to work for DHS? Yes, the government is big, but at some point the argument that it’s mostly the guy at the top who is bad but the rest of the agency is still committed to good science becomes just too hard to swallow. I decided that I can’t square that circle. Each one of us should think hard about whether we want to.

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Feb 20, 2017

Moral implications

Posted by in categories: ethics, habitats

Here’s my take on why the overpopulation objection to rejuvenation is morally unacceptable.


In this article, I’ll try to show that the overpopulation objection against rejuvenation is morally deplorable. For this purpose, whether or not the world is overpopulated or might be such in the future doesn’t matter. I’ll deal with facts and data in the two other articles dedicated to this objection; for now, all I want is getting to the conclusion that not developing rejuvenation for the sake of avoiding overpopulation is morally unacceptable (especially when considering the obvious and ethically more sound alternative), and thus overpopulation doesn’t constitute a valid objection to rejuvenation.

I’ll start with an example. Imagine there’s a family of two parents and three children. They’re not doing too well financially, and they live packed in a tiny apartment with no chances of moving somewhere larger. Clearly they cannot afford having more children, but they would really like having more anyway. What should they do?

The only reasonable answer is that they should not have any more children until they can afford having them. Throwing away the old ones for the sake of some other child to be even conceived yet would be nothing short of sheer madness.

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Feb 20, 2017

There are people who want to make gene editing a human right

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, ethics, genetics

Cool story!


Biohackers push back as the scientific establishment charts a course through the ethics of genetic interference.

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Feb 11, 2017

Value Conflicts surrounding the Meaning of Life in the Trans/Post/Human Future

Posted by in categories: biological, cryonics, cyborgs, economics, environmental, ethics, futurism, governance, health, homo sapiens, law, mobile phones, policy, posthumanism, security, theory, transhumanism

Posthumanists and perhaps especially transhumanists tend to downplay the value conflicts that are likely to emerge in the wake of a rapidly changing technoscientific landscape. What follows are six questions and scenarios that are designed to focus thinking by drawing together several tendencies that are not normally related to each other but which nevertheless provide the basis for future value conflicts.

  1. Will ecological thinking eventuate in an instrumentalization of life? Generally speaking, biology – especially when a nervous system is involved — is more energy efficient when it comes to storing, accessing and processing information than even the best silicon-based computers. While we still don’t quite know why this is the case, we are nevertheless acquiring greater powers of ‘informing’ biological processes through strategic interventions, ranging from correcting ‘genetic errors’ to growing purpose-made organs, including neurons, from stem-cells. In that case, might we not ‘grow’ some organs to function in largely the same capacity as silicon-based computers – especially if it helps to reduce the overall burden that human activity places on the planet? (E.g. the brains in the vats in the film The Minority Report which engage in the precognition of crime.) In other words, this new ‘instrumentalization of life’ may be the most environmentally friendly way to prolong our own survival. But is this a good enough reason? Would these specially created organic thought-beings require legal protection or even rights? The environmental movement has been, generally speaking, against the multiplication of artificial life forms (e.g. the controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms), but in this scenario these life forms would potentially provide a means to achieve ecologically friendly goals.

  1. Will concerns for social justice force us to enhance animals? We are becoming more capable of recognizing and decoding animal thoughts and feelings, a fact which has helped to bolster those concerned with animal welfare, not to mention ‘animal rights’. At the same time, we are also developing prosthetic devices (of the sort already worn by Steven Hawking) which can enhance the powers of disabled humans so their thoughts and feelings are can be communicated to a wider audience and hence enable them to participate in society more effectively. Might we not wish to apply similar prosthetics to animals – and perhaps even ourselves — in order to facilitate the transaction of thoughts and feelings between humans and animals? This proposal might aim ultimately to secure some mutually agreeable ‘social contract’, whereby animals are incorporated more explicitly in the human life-world — not as merely wards but as something closer to citizens. (See, e.g., Donaldson and Kymlicka’s Zoopolis.) However, would this set of policy initiatives constitute a violation of the animals’ species integrity and simply be a more insidious form of human domination?

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Jan 28, 2017

The Ethics of Organoids: Scientists Weigh in on New Mini-Organs

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, ethics, neuroscience

Growing organs in the lab is an enduring sci-fi trope, but as stem cell technology brings it ever closer to reality, scientists are beginning to contemplate the ethics governing disembodied human tissue.

So-called organoids have now been created from gut, kidney, pancreas, liver and even brain tissue. Growing these mini-organs has been made possible by advances in stem cell technology and the development of 3D support matrices that allow cells to develop just like they would in vivo.

Unlike simple tissue cultures, they exhibit important structural and functional properties of organs, and many believe they could dramatically accelerate research into human development and disease.

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Jan 20, 2017

The UN Okays Synthetic Biology

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biological, ethics, existential risks, genetics

That’s a relief.


Of all the potentially apocalyptic technologies scientists have come up with in recent years, the gene drive is easily one of the most terrifying. A gene drive is a tool that allows scientists to use genetic engineering to override natural selection during reproduction. In theory, scientists could use it to alter the genetic makeup of an entire species—or even wipe that species out. It’s not hard to imagine how a slip-up in the lab could lead to things going very, very wrong.

But like most great risks, the gene drive also offers incredible reward. Scientists are, for example, exploring how gene drive might be used to wipe out malaria and kill off Hawaii’s invasive species to save endangered native birds. Its perils may be horrifying, but its promise is limitless. And environmental groups have been campaigning hard to prevent that promise from ever being realized.

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Jan 17, 2017

MIT’s ‘Moral Machine’ wants you to decide who dies in a self-driving car accident

Posted by in categories: ethics, transportation

Yikes!


If there’s an unavoidable accident in a self-driving car, who dies? This is the question researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) want you to answer in ‘Moral Machine.’

The simplistic website is sort of like the famed ‘Trolley Problem’ on steroids. If you’re unfamiliar, according to Wikipedia, the Trolley Problem is as follows:

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Dec 30, 2016

The Ethics of Synthetic Biology

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biological, ethics, law

Nice article raising old concerns and debates on ethics. Synbio like any technology or science can in the wrong hands be used to do anything destructive. Placing standards and laws on such technologies truly does get the law abiding researchers, labs and companies aligned and sadly restricted. However, it does not prevent an ISIS, or the black market, or any other criminal with money from trying to meet an intended goal. So, I do caution folks to at least step back assess and think before imposing a bunch of restrictions and laws on a technology that prevents it from helping those in need v. criminals who never follow ethics or the law.


When artists use synthetic biology, are they playing God, or just playing with cool new toys? Scientists Drew Endy and Christina Agapakis weigh in on the ethics.

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Dec 15, 2016

Ethics of Artificial Intelligence on Livestream

Posted by in categories: ethics, robotics/AI

Recently, New York University hosted a conference of philosophers, scientists and engineers discussing the topic of “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.” The conference was a virtual who’s who of artificial intelligence and machine ethics…

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Dec 13, 2016

IEEE publishes draft report on ‘ethically aligned’ AI design

Posted by in categories: ethics, government, law, robotics/AI

IEEE’s new standards for ethically aligned AI — it’s a start focuses a lot on building ethics/ Morales into AI and not promote the building of autonomous AI Weapons, etc. However, without government & laws on the books this set of standards are a feel good document at best. When it gets into morals, values, not breaking laws, etc. this is when the standard really must come from social and cultural order/ practices, government, and most importantly laws to ensure the standards have the buy in and impact you need. My suggestion to IEEE, please work with gov, tech, legal sys. on this one.


More than 100 experts in artificial intelligence and ethics are attempting to advance public discussion surrounding the ethical considerations of AI.

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