Ethics, Technology and the Future of Humanity conference

Imagine that you could choose not only your child’s name, but also his gender, hair color, height, nose shape, and intelligence level. Would that be considered ethical? This is only one of the ethical dilemmas mentioned by Professor Peter Singer which we could face in the near future. Peter singer is regarded as one of the most influential modern philosophers, and has specialized in teaching applied ethics through his books and lectures. He was invited at WIPO for the first edition of the to be annual Ethics, Technology and the Future of Humanity conference.

Ethical Dilemmas of all kinds were presented, but a recurring theme was technology. There is no doubt that we use and will continue to use scientific advancements to help save lives, or create lives for that matter. This is the point of In Vitro Fertilization, which has allowed many infertile couples to have a child. But the list of ethical questions due to this invention is very long: is it ethical to have a baby whose genes do not relate to you in any way? Since genetic screening allows us to determine the future baby’s genes, is it ethical to choose an embryo which does not display a risk for an illness? Now what if you used this technology to “build” babies with the characteristics we want? This would have huge consequences, not only for human diversity but also social segregation as lower classes may not be able to afford this technology. What about respirators, which are responsible for many lives saved, but can also sustain a victim’s body even if there is no brain activity. In that case, is it ethical to turn off the respirator, and possibly save a life with functioning organs?

All these questions are impossible to answer correctly, and depend on your point of view. And there is no doubt that more and more questions will continue to rise, especially with the development AI. How should AI solve the trolley problem? Should self-driving cars value some lives more than others? But also, more down-to-Earth,, how do we deal with machines replacing our jobs? Singer joked about AI taking the interpreter’s job, but this is not far off from the truth. Should planning for a future where many of us are left jobless be a priority? What about facing super-intelligent machines which may threaten humanity? The future does seem full of uncertainty. Peter Singer is however certain, that we should approach the future with affective altruism in mind, or maximizing benefits for all with the available resources.

Find the full broadcast here.