Bioethics Blogs

Autonomy and Responsibility

The National Intelligence Council has just published one of its periodic forays into thinking about the future: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. As even the title suggests, the report is full of carefully qualified projections and scenarios, often noting the ambiguity of technological development—the truism that the same technology can produce both good and bad outcomes depending on how it is deployed. In its relatively brief thematic discussion of human augmentation, however, there is really nothing said about specific downsides of augmentation technologies beyond noting the likelihood of their inegalitarian distribution over the next 15-20 years, a problem which “may require regulation.” Instead, the passage closes with the sentence, “Moral and ethical challenges to human augmentation are inevitable.”

Apparently, while it is helpful to anticipate what enhancement technologies might allow in the future, there is nothing to be gained by trying to anticipate what the moral and ethical objections to them might be. Of course, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that such objections will exist, but it is hardly worthwhile to actually attempt to think about them.
This largely symbolic bow to ethics is common enough in such reports, perhaps only to be expected. It is one of those moments we have noted repeatedly at Futurisms, where the debate over human enhancement meets up with our culture’s democratic libertarianism and moral relativism. Plainly, we don’t think this outlook is a sound footing upon which to meet the undeniable challenges of the future.
Indeed, we are hardly short on reasons to think we ought to flee whenever possible from thinking seriously about moral distinctions, in the name of protecting autonomy or free choice.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.