Earlier in the month I posted about a report financed by the British Government which said that by 2056 robots may be given the same rights as humans. The official report said that robots may even have voting privileges and be forced to pay taxes.
2056 is still a long way in the future. What may be more imminent is the maze of ethical problems posed, not by human-like robots, but by modified human beings.
I’m talking about what scientists call Transhumanism. For a good introduction to Transhumanism, see the video I posted on the Transhumanist Arms Race or the longer version of the same video here. Also see the article Nick Bostrom wrote for the Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 37, No. 4 dealing with some of the issues raised as scientists begin exploring the post-human realm. Also see the research being done at Arizona State University warning about Transhumanism as a type of secular eschatology.
If scientists get to the point of being able to produce human/animals hybrids, or to significantly modify the genetic makeup of human beings so as to produce a new race of superhumans, posthumans, transhumans, homosapiens 2.0, or techno-humans (by combining advanced robotic technology with human biology), then what would be the legal standing of these beings? Should these new brands of creatures be subject to the same judicial procedures that regulate humanity, or will there need to be a parallel legal framework for these new creatures? Would killing or enslaving one of these creatures be the same as killing or enslaving a human being, or would that be a lesser crime?
Perhaps questions like these seem like the stuff of science fiction. Think again. Even as scientists race to create upgraded human beings, academics and legal scholars throughout the world are meeting to discuss the changing legal frameworks that will be needed. Consider just a few examples of this:
- Georgetown Law School has published a paper exploring the Implications of Transhumanism for the Separation of Church and State. It can be read online here.
- The President’s Council on Bioethics has published research on how transhumanism effects American ideals of what it is to be free and to pursue happiness. It can be read online here.
- In 2010 a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing chaired by Democrat Brad Sherman explored how to handle future terrorism conducted by transhumans. Read about it here.
- The World Transhumanist Association (WTA) has been meeting with legal scholars to chart the best way forward for making technological self-determination a legal right. They are also working with the Transhumanist Law Network to devise the legal frameworks for this campaign. Read about it here.
- The University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute has been working to “clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.” This includes pioneering research about the new legal infrastructure that will need to be in place to ensure a smooth transitioning in our post-human future. The Institute’s academic publications are available to read on their website.
- In 2006, The Department of Health provided $773,000 to Case Law School in Cleveland Ohio to develop guidelines for policy on human enhancement in next step in human evolution. The team of researchers were charged with exploring how government policy can be extended to new types of humans. Information about it can be found on Wired.com and eurekalert.org. Also Maxwell J. Mehlman, who led the study, has the following two podcasts that you can listen to: “Improved Humans: Legal and Political Aspects of the New Genetics” and “Directed Evolution: Public Policy and Human Enhancement”.