Bioethics Blogs

Effort, psychological continuity, human enhancement and superintelligence

One argument against human enhancement is that it is cheating. Cheating others and oneself. One may be cheating oneself for various reasons; because one took the easy path instead of actually acquiring a certain capacity, because once one enhances one is no longer oneself, because enhancements are superficial among others. I would like to try to develop further the intuition that “it is not the same person any more”. I will concentrate in forms of enhancement that involve less effort, are considered easier, or faster than conventional means because the cheating argument seems directed at them. In fact, most forms of non-conventional technological enhancements being proposed seem to be easier routes towards self-improvement. I will also explore how my considerations might mean trouble for any type of disruptive technology besides radical human enhancement, such as superintelligence or whole-brain emulation.

One of the intuitions behind the cheating argument is that there is something intrinsically bad with enhancement when compared to conventional, old-fashioned hard work. Two individuals might achieve the exact same results, but if one of them works to become better and the other takes a pill, the latter created less value in the world in virtue of having taken the pill. I am convinced one common way to defend this intuition does not hold water.

It’s not the hardness of the hard working route that is doing the work. If it were the hardness, as Tom Douglas argues, then one could always increase the value of something by making it harder to achieve for no reason. It might be that becoming better by hard work has more value than by easy work, perhaps because there are more profound improvements or because there is learning in the hardships.

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.