Question Forum 3

Question 1 (Chapter 5)
On page 88, the authors say that it is not “inevitable that the consequences of more individuals with more intelligence will be improved humanness or humanity” because this does not eliminate the different value systems that people hold or the uncertainties about the future that will always exist. Do you agree or disagree? What is your interpretation of “improved humanness” in the first place – is it increased harmony in the world or is it an individual’s attempts to be stronger, more attractive, smarter, etc.? What might some of these different values or future uncertainties be that stand in the way of improved humanness?

Question 2 (Chapter 5)
On page 93, the authors claim that intellectual growth must come from experience and that “when the hubris of intelligence gets in the way of what is learned from direct, contextual experience, the results are often disastrous.” Do you think you would trust a group of leaders whose intellect has been technologically enhanced (making them theoretically smarter)? Would you trust them more than a completely random group of people whose intellect ranges widely and has not been technologically enhanced? Why do you think this is?

Question 3 (Chapter 6)

On page 110, Allen talks about the overarching idea of complexity. In our world, many single things are too involved in the overall world that we can’t possibly conceive of all the possible outcomes of one single entity. This can be a single species of animal—however small—or a technology like a line of code that’s implemented over and over, no one person can fathom the outcomes. What’s one simple piece of technology, for now we can say “shiny” technology, in your own life that you can see having an impact on nearly everything else in your life? Try not to think about complex medical devices, high-end thinking, etc. Try to keep it to something that, at first, you find extremely simplistic.

Question 4 (Chapter 6)

The authors say on page 119, “Not only can no one understand “the whole”, but a good worldview or ideology is often just what is necessary for simplifying things enough to enables individuals to operate in the real world without losing any sense of meaning.” Many people, especially those in academia, spend their whole careers and whole lives pursuing knowledge of a subject after accepting that they will never get to know “the whole” when one even small subject is too vast for one person to grasp. They might endeavor to learn about one microorganism, or one species of plant, or one philosophy. What purpose does this role of specifying a niche and pursuing that do for the (to borrow a word from Kevin Kelly) collective knowledge of “the whole”?

Question 5 (Chapter 7)
In chapter 7, Allenby and Sarewitz discuss the four realms: Revolutions in Military Conflict, Revolutions in Nature of Conflict, Revolutions in Civilian Systems, and Revolutions in Military Operations and Culture. They say, “each of these realms is changing, each is contingent, each is unstable, and each is coupled to the others; taken together, they form a potent Level III system” (142). Do you think that these realms are equal? If not, which is the most powerful? In the future, will these realms be equal, or will one be more powerful?

Response to Question 1
10/04, 10:45pm - Jonathan Lutton

I believe their conclusion is correct in the fact that a society of individuals with more intelligence does not necessitate the development of a society in which we exhibit “more humanness or humanity.” The actualization of any individual in society is such that we must recognize the individuated framework from which they base their ethical decisions and that this basis inherently differs from any other. Making it such that everyone (or even a slight majority) within a given society had greater intelligence would only make the mental capacity of each individual more diverse and capable of what one might term as “greater rationality.” Nevertheless, greater rationality or brilliance of mind does not necessitate a society in which citizens thrive towards an improved concern for human ideals or even that their reasoning may count as anything but flawed (ethically speaking). There are countless brilliant people who have made terrible mistakes and decisions which they believed to be entirely rational from their own point of view, and as such it seems that their being “rather cleverer than most men” tends to make their mistakes “correspondingly huger” (Allenby and Sarewitz, 91). Above and beyond this, we may have greater “collective intelligence” but this would prove nothing of the moral character for any of the individuals involved; rather, it would show something which I’ve already stated—that these individuals have an increased capacity from which to base their individuated decisions. These decisions, by the way, relate directly to their individual lives, and it is rational to assume the belief that they are more likely to act in their own favor whether or not it is commendable or grants them increased “humanness.”

Intelligence alone does not increase expressions of empathy, altruistic tendencies, or even creativity—all of which we might believe to be beneficial to the advancement of “humanity.” Personally, I believe an advancement of humanity might be defined as reflective discourse or conscious action with the deliberate intention of assisting in the development or progression of societal goals (whatever they may be defined as) in relation to the collective benefit of all those within a given society. In this way I see the advancement of humanity as an inherently collective concept, and therefore to speak about the advancement of an “individual’s humanity” may then be considered a categorical mistake. Individuals are human in species and they can exhibit the characteristic traits which we attribute to our greater conception of humanity (e.g. altruism, reason, free will); however, an individual is not “humanity” in his/her essence, despite their ability to exemplify its ideological traits. One may advance the capacity of an individual such that they can transcend their naturally occurring limitations, but this alteration even on a grand scale cannot change what is to be human—it would define us rather in terms of human augmentation or enhanced capacity.

(Even as I write this, a contradiction occurs to me: it seems that downloading yourself into a computer would somehow make an individual less than human because they cannot interact within our physical community, but under my assertion they would have to be defined as merely an augmented human of some variety even as they leave the corporeal realm for that of the digital…)

Response to Question 1
10/05, 7:50 am, - Brooks Tiffany

I agree and disagree with Allenby here. I agree that enhancing intelligence all over the world will not lead to some sort of harmony or utopia in the future; this is because of all the different values and perspectives held around the world. Allenby sums that problem up quite clearly when he writes that “intelligent, well-meaning people may – and commonly do – have incommensurable values, preferences, and word views. No optimization function exists for their diverse beliefs” (88). Everybody in the world enhancing their intelligence doesn’t mean we will all magically meet in the middle at the “right answer”; I think it means we all might just find better answers to our own ends.

Where I disagree is on the improved humanness. I think my definition of humanness may differ from Allenby’s because I think enhanced intelligence will indeed increase our “humanness”. I would define humanness as everything that seems to be natural for humans – taking the good with the bad. Our increased humanness means that not only will we have an increased capacity for love, creation, and compassion but also an increased capacity for hate, destruction, and cruelty. We can only hope that the good part of humans will keep outweighing the bad by the slightest of margins. Granted, this is more complicated than good vs. evil – there’s always that pesky gray area.

A final thought/question, and this might throw the entire above argument under the bus…or not. What’s the difference between education and intelligence? Because I believe education (the eradication of ignorance) is the answer to many of the world’s problems – and to say that things would pretty much be the same in the future no matter how educated everybody was seems a bit obtuse. I guess what I’m saying is that enhanced intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean enhanced education/less ignorance (which might actually have a shot at bringing us a more harmonious future – where people can agree to disagree and still live with each other).

Response to Question 2
10/06, 11:21 pm, - Angela Kim

I think that I would trust a random group of people whose intellect ranges widely and has not been technologically enhanced over a group of leaders with technologically enhanced intellect. Although a group of leaders, not even just the average citizen, would have much merit, I don't think I would ever trust a technologically enhanced mind 100%. Those with technological enhancements (this word is a bit ambiguous) would have greater intelligence than the rest of us, but they could be flawed. There is no guarantee that their minds will work that way forever and that there aren't any momentary lapses of some sort. I think that although it is risky to trust a random group of people, those with different experiences intelligence levels can bring about interesting and thoughtful conclusions. I guess it depends on what I would trust the group with.

When we say 'technologically enhanced' I think of those who make decisions using logic and little to no emotions or feelings. I'd say that there is something to be said about those who make life choices using their gut instinct and feelings over pure logic. I feel like I would trust the random group because I'm more like them and I'm more familiar with them. I would feel separate from the group of leaders with technologically enhanced intellect because they are all alike and only use their intellect and not their emotions. It's as if they are artificial - closer to being a robot. Theoretically, although they would be smarter, I don't think that that group would be able to gain as much trust as a group of "normal" people would be. Also, if you place a group of equally intelligent people together, strong opinions may clash and it could turn quite competitive, and tempers and egos may flare (although if one had technologically enhanced intelligence, they would use logic and reasoning so they would all come up with a mutual decision).

Response to Question 3
10/7, 11:25 - Alex Lamb

Glasses and contact lenses are technologies that seem very simplistic - a piece of glass or plastic that refracts light differently so as to allow me to see clearly. If I was unable to have corrected vision, I (and anyone else with glasses/contacts) would be at an extreme disadvantage compared to those that have naturally good vision. We wouldn't be allowed to drive, play sports, watch television, or read a book, depending on the prescription. Many of the activities we take for granted would be nearly impossible without this correction. Although sight is sometimes self-correcting, very rarely does people's vision get better throughout their lives.

Without being able to to drive, people that need vision correction would be dependent on those that can see clearly for transportation. If we couldn't read, we would have less ways to gain knowledge and again be dependent on those that can see to give us that knowledge. Having good vision is genetic, so whole families could potentially not be able to see. Perhaps those that didn't have good vision would eventually die out and only those with good vision would remain, if looked at through the Darwinian perspective.

In the sense that we use glasses and contacts, we are already "techno-human," especially those of us that have had Lasik!

Response to Question 2
10/07, 12:41pm - Augusta Dean

I agree with Angela in that I would definitely trust a group of random people whose intellect ranges rather than a group of people who have been technologically enhanced. Experience and knowledge from real life experiences far outweighs that of a person who has been technologically enhanced. Lets say that someone who is “technologically enhanced” has a huge book or database to reference (maybe even implanted into their memory) giving them instructions on how to act in a given situation, but will that knowledge set account for special situations, exceptions, and the like? There is no way that artificial intelligence can take the place of the knowledge of a human that has been gained through personal experience or history.

Response to Question 1
10/7, 4:00pm - Hobs Towler

It is my assertion that there are two very powerful, very human things in this world: beliefs and knowledge; however, depending on how one views belief and knowledge (especially in a historical context), the distinction can vanish. Regardless, it seems that beliefs are the forces that guide people and knowledge is the vehicle by which they are transported; we believe that military veterans suffering injuries should have a better quality of life and so we develop advanced prosthetics using our knowledge of biology and computer systems. The example I have just given seems to be in favor of the betterment of humanity, but that opinion is itself only supported by the belief that wounded veterans benefit from prosthetics. The authors themselves seem to ignore the mutability of the concept of progress and human benefit, choosing a decidedly western view of progress, but they are careful to note that beliefs and belief systems (notably, religion, which cannot be ignored no matter how much I would prefer this to be a secular argument) can go both directions.

So yes, I would agree with the authors that improved 'human-ness' is not an inevitable consequence of generally improved intelligence. For example, scientists have apparently discovered a method of gene therapy where a third person donates genetic material to lower the risk of a child resulting from the union of two original parents receiving genetic diseases or predispositions to heart disease among other benefits. The article in question ( sensationally claims the child would be a three parent baby. However, 34 european politicians have begun to draw up legislation banning this method of therapy citing that it is "incompatible with human dignity." My opinions on the subject notwithstanding, it appears as though these politicians believe that suffering (apparently without reason) is essential to the human experience.

Perhaps these politicians have all watched Gattaca. But even if a future where discrimination at the genetic level is not only permissible, but institutional is what these men and women fear, they are in a position to ensure that that is not the case. So why would they simply oppose the practice and not try to regulate it for the betterment of mankind? It would seem that fear plays a role, but also strong beliefs; beliefs that this practice is tantamount to eugenics, a practice with strong ties to Nazis and genocide. However, eugenics is really the practice of selectively breeding for certain genetic traits(some members of the population would not be allowed to reproduce at all), which is far from what is being attempted in this gene therapy.

So again, while this may read like the rantings of a lunatic, I would agree that intelligence does not guarantee improvements in 'human-ness,' but I would add that the answer really depends on how you qualify it.

Response to Question 4
10/7, 7:30pm - Jonathan Wolfe

The world, not to mention the universe, is an incredibly complex place. To think that any one person could even come close to understanding it fully is laughable. But, to get to the question, we can chip away at this immense unknown entity by specializing in niche fields.

By specializing in a small spectrum of material as many in research and academia do, we are able to develop an exhaustive understanding of a very, very small part of our world. In isolation, one person with an exhaustive niche understanding will not change much. But when millions of people have these specialized understandings, this knowledge comes together and contributes to a body of knowledge containing exhaustive understandings of thousands of topics. While each of us will never understand everything in this body of knowledge, the fact remains that the knowledge exists and can be utilized and furthered by other members of the public.

These specialized understandings also have a way of working themselves into the knowledge of the general public. Take viruses, for example. Thousands of researchers have dedicated their entire lives to studying individual viruses. A person outside of this specialized community won’t understand viruses in a way remotely close to the way that members of the virus research community will. But because of their specialized efforts, we can create a general overview of how viruses work in a way that the public can understand. This specialized knowledge has a way of trickling down, if you will.

Response to Question 4
10/7 — Erika Lower

The inherent complexity of the universe is absolutely overwhelming when you start to think about it, and the fact that it's impossible for someone to understand everything is a given — there is simply more information about the universe than any given individual has time to process in their entire lifetime. But that's okay! What we can do is try our best to break the universe down into somewhat more manageable chunks. Experts will devote their life to studying a tiny fragment of "the whole" — the behavior patterns of a single species of mongoose in Madagascar, or the qualities of a specific type of heat-treated steel, or a single hormone responsible for various elements of human growth and behavior — with the understanding that their work is so highly specific as to be mostly irrelevant in day-to-day life.

But if you combine this set of specialists and their respective bases of knowledge, you've got an infinitely deeper pool of information to access than you would with an equal number of generalists. Not only do specialists know the information in their field, they have a meta-knowledge of their area of interest that allows them to direct themselves and other people towards specific bits of data that may be useful in answering a specific question.

As Jonathan said, this specialized information does trickle down into general knowledge that is accessible to the public at large, through academic and informal publications and other means of communication. Understanding the intricacies of particle physics, for example, is complex and may be nearly impossible for someone without any training in science. But when specialists take the time to condense and simplify their knowledge base for general consumption, it's possible to get an overview of how they work and how they fit into the universe — and if that happens to catch someone else's interest, the experts are there to help them expand their knowledge base going forward.

Response to Question 1
10/13—Matt Gilbert

If we take a look at the past, we see that there is a common trend within humanity throughout history. That is, we are constantly evolving. Due to the rapid evolution of technology, we are a different breed of humans, both physically and technologically. Our athletes are bigger, faster and stronger. Our scientists and doctors (only to name a few) are forced to think in a different context than those 50, 100, 200 years ago. There are jobs now that did not even exist 20 years ago. And this is all because of technology. So, to answer Question 1, it is inevitable that the consequences of more individuals with more intelligence will be improved humanness or humanity. That is pure common sense. We live in a world where achieved success is based on the drive of the individual. Success is reached by those who are intelligent, not only in the way that they think, but in the way that they act. And of course, those who sit quietly in the corner will simply be overlooked.

But what is success? Success may have varying definitions based on the individual at hand, and as cliche as it sounds, we all know that money doesn't always equate to happiness. To achieve this "improved humanness", we must be content with ourselves, and learn to be more accepting of others. This is something that we struggle with as a society, and I guarantee that each and every one of us has had trouble with this concept (including myself). So yes, as the years continue to pass us by, we will only become stronger. Our minds will continue to evolve, as will our physical bodies. However, if we wish improve upon our "humanness" as a whole, we must look within ourselves first.