The liberal democratic revolution, centuries old and still growing strong, has at its core the idea that people are happiest when they have rational control over their lives. Reason, science, and technology provide one kind of control, slowly freeing us from ignorance, toil, pain, and disease. Democracy provides the other kinds of control, through civil liberties and electoral participation.
Technology and democracy complement one another, ensuring that safe technology is generally accessible and democratically accountable. The convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science in the coming decades will give us unimaginable technological mastery of nature and ourselves. That mastery requires progressive democratization.
Our purpose, therefore, is to stimulate and support constructive study of ethical issues connected with these powerful emerging technologies.
The Debate Over Human Enhancement
In the next fifty years, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and cognitive science will allow human beings to transcend the limitations of the human body. Healthy lifespans will extend well beyond a century. Our senses and cognition will be enhanced. We will have greater control over our emotions and memory. Our bodies and brains will be surrounded by and merged with computer power. We will use these technologies to redesign ourselves and our children in ways that push the boundaries of "humanness."
The prospect of rapid change in the human condition understandably worries many people. Now a loose coalition of groups has emerged to forbid human enhancement"”from genetic therapies and psychopharmaceuticals to prosthetic organs and nanomedical robotics. This "bioconservative" coalition is diverse, including some bioethicists, religious conservatives, disability rights and environmental activists, and leftist critics of biotechnology.
The IEET believes this debate desperately needs voices that avoid these extremes, voices that argue for the potential benefits of new technologies while proposing realistic policies to mitigate their risks within a strong democratic framework.
Defending Rights While Taking Risks Seriously
Responding to the polarization of the debate between technophobes and anti-regulatory technophiles, an emerging global network of technoprogressive thinkers are defending people's rights to use human enhancement technologies, while taking seriously the need to regulate their safety and social consequences. Technoprogressives address questions such as the right to use"”and not use"”cognitive enhancement technologies in an increasingly competitive society.
How much clinical testing will be necessary to ensure the safety of genetic enhancements? How can we regulate psychoactive drugs in a way that respects cognitive liberty? When should parents be permitted to genetically enhance their children? How can we avoid exacerbating inequality as human enhancement technologies spread? Which enhancement therapies should be provided through the market and which as a right of citizenship through universal health plans?
Until recently there has been no institutional home for the consideration of these ethical challenges of emerging technologies free from both technophobic red herrings, such as anxieties about transgressing the boundaries of humanness and human reason, and from anti-regulatory dogmas that reject democratic public policy as an avenue to address future risks. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies is filling that gap.
A Focus on Individuals and Societies
Personal enhancement"”potentially transforming some humans into posthumans"”is an obvious and necessary area of study for the IEET. But the recognition that all individuals exist within societies, and that personal choices may overlap the rights of others within those societies, makes the work of IEET scholars more complex and also more urgent.
As technoprogressives, we want to see all sentient beings protected in their rights for self-augmentation, enhancement, or modification, and we want everyone to have fair and equal access to such treatments. However, we believe those technologies must be tested for safety and efficacy, and made universally accessible. Their consequences for society will be profound, and need to be thoroughly considered.
Similarly, we affirm the possibility of a bountiful technological future. But we believe robust efforts are required to insure that the path of technological development is safe, sustainable, and offers abundance for all.
We desire to live in a world where peace and security are considered a given everywhere around the globe. Thus, we encourage activism that reaches across ethnic, cultural, and geographic lines, especially when those initiatives involve transnational cooperation. We strongly support the use of emerging technologies to extend human capacities for knowledge, for understanding, for communication, and for wise decision-making.
Ultimately we want to see the enforcement of international law and human rights agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promising fundamental freedoms, health, welfare, and education for all. We also want to see an extension of international human rights to include the rights to bodily autonomy, reproductive choice, and cognitive liberty for all persons. We place great value on a healthy biosphere, realized through a combination of wise democratic action and the responsible deployment of powerful new technologies. We favor expanded, enlightened definitions of personhood, to take in all sentient beings, whether human in origin or not. We look forward to increased equality of opportunity, decreased suffering, and flourishing diversity in human and posthuman development.