The Ethics of Human and Animal Enhancement

In the very libertarian ReasonOnline, Ronald Bailey reports on the discussions of genetic enhancements at the Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights (HETHR) conference at Stanford University’s Law School.

The HETHR conference was not devoted to just defining and defending human and posthuman rights—some visionary and, some might say, really eccentric proposals were also on offer. For example, George Dvorsky, deputy editor of Betterhumans, argued that using biotech to enhance just human consciousness is not enough—humanity has the moral responsibility to use biotech to lift the veil of brute ignorance from the animals. “It would be negligent of us to leave animals behind to fend for themselves in the state of nature,” declared Dvorsky.

In uplifting animals, Dvorsky explained, we must avoid creating subhumans. Specifically we must not use biotech to create happy slaves, creatures with constrained or predetermined psychologies, or beings to be used for demeaning or dangerous work. His project is reminiscent of sci-fi novelist David Brin’s The Uplift Wars in which throughout the galaxies one sapient species after another uses genetic engineering to uplift non-sapient species to sapiency. In Brin’s books, humanity uplifts dolphins and chimps. In his talk Dvorsky was pretty catholic in wanting to spread sapiency around, even suggesting that cows might be uplifted if we gave them hands.