• Deep thoughts about tech trends toward cyborg status
• Individualism at risk in networked, connected society
• Does it matter if humans change form?
From iRobot to Battlestar Galactica, audiences have been intrigued with the possibility of machines becoming human. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is one of the emerging technologies we are struggling to regulate wisely. But what about humans becoming machines? Or at least more machine-like? In today’s episode, John Danaher, a lecturer in law at the National University of Ireland, in Galway, delves into philosophical issues of technology. One way to picture the direction many people feel we’re heading with prosthetics, implants, nanotechnology, etc. is to recall The Borg of Star Trek. Dr. Danaher recapped who The Borg was to introduce some of the trends happening in the real world. Members of The Borg were enemies encountered throughout Star Trek history. They were organic beings fused with technology and assimilated into a super-being, a collective mind. A central concern seems to be that what we know as being human is changing. John explains why this is so scary.But in addition to concerns about becoming cyborgs, another aspect of Borg-likeness is the increasing connectivity between beings, which suppresses individuality as our viewpoints become more homogenous. Dr. Danaher discusses what aspects of networking, surveillance and big data might be leading to the creation of a Borg-like society and how risk-based thinking (striving to avoid even highly unlikely events with relatively minor consequences) might be an intellectual mechanism making our society more Borg-like.Key to one’s level of concern are one’s convictions regarding human origins. If the human was created “as is,” as a sacred entity meant to have one permanent constitution upon which our moral and spiritual capacities depend, then alteration is utterly unacceptable. If one views current humanity as a stage in an evolving natural world, perhaps regulation, or at least guidance, is an opportunity to avoid catastrophe and aim for higher things.Dr. J recommended the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (ieet.org) as a marvelous central point from which to explore the questions dealt with on this episode.
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John Danaher is a lecturer in the Law School at the National University of Ireland, Galway. His research interests lie, broadly, in the areas of philosophy of law, ethics, emerging technologies and religion. In the past, he has published articles on human enhancement, brain-based lie detection, the philosophy of punishment and artificial intelligence. He maintains a blog called Philosophical Disquisitions, and he also writes for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.