I’ve just listened to a discussion about Transhumanism, a set of ideas which pertains to the possibility of what it’s adherents perceive as the potential of humans transcending our existing limitations (see http://www.audible.co.uk/aduk/site/product.jsp?p=BK_REAL_000081UK&BV_UseBVCookie=Yes). Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement ranging from those who wish to enhance the capabilities of people by genetic engineering to others who postulate that our brains/minds can be downloaded to robot bodies allowing us to live forever. This discussion focuses on the use of information technology to increase the capacities of humans and entails contributions from Professors Kevin Warwick and Noel Sharky.
Professor Warwick famously made history by being the first person to have an RFID chip implanted into his arm. This enabled him to open doors and turn lights off and on. Later Warwick had a more advanced implant which allowed him to control a robot hand, in the UK while the Professor was located in New York in the USA.
The above technology is already being utilised to enable paralysed people to gain independence by permitting them to control a robotic hand, using a chip similar to that utilised by Warwick to pick up and manipulate objects.
A debate ensued between Warwick and Sharky regarding the chipping of children. Warwick believes that the technology could give parents peace of mind by allowing them to keep track of their children, for example he drew attention to autistic children who had got lost and the potential of microchipping to enable their easy location by their parents. Sharky acknowledged the usefulness of chipping in the specific situation refered to by Warwick he was, however much more lukewarm as regards the use of the technology than him seeing the potential for it’s abuse. Sharky stated that he would not use the technology on his own children, however he did concede that if society changed and children where being routinely kidnapped then, in such circumstances the chipping of children might be justified to counteract the danger of abduction.
An interesting debate took place concerning the use of robots in military situations. Broadly speaking Warwick argues that provided the machines are correctly programmed to avoid inflicting civilian casualties there is, in principle no difficulty in utilising robots on the battlefield. In contrast Sharky is more sceptical arguing that it is difficult enough for humans to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Machines do not possess the judgement of humans so it would be highly irresponsible to permit them to make decisions in the absence of a human controller. Sharky also points out that a robot (unlike a person) can not be punished for killing civilians in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Turning off a robot is no punishment.
Amongst the other topics addressed is the enhancing of intelligence by technological means thereby enabling enhanced persons to perform with greater intellectual ability than their non-enhanced peers. Sharky sees this as having the potential to increase inequality which is (according to him) already exascerbated by the fact that parents with the financial means can already send their children to expensive private schools thereby giving them a head start in life.
This is an interesting programme and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to you.