I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the clash between science and ethics. Below is a brief summary of my response to him.
The Concept of Eugenics Highlights the Conflict Between Science and Ethics. The Eugenics issue is such an interesting topic because it is one of the clearest and most intense examples of how objective scientific inquiry can violently clash with subjective ethical human behavior. Most rational humans probably appreciate the value of science, but naturally, they do not place the value of science above their own self-interest. Thus, the Eugenics debate also highlights an interesting conflict of human ideals and interests.
We All Exist Along a Continuum of Human Performance. A human’s physical and intellectual capabilities exist along a continuum of performance, generally ranging from being comatose/brain-dead on the one end and being a prosthetically enhanced cyborg on the other end. This is especially true today as artificial intelligence and various types of prosthetic enhancement become increasingly prevalent. Today, I think many humans realize that, no matter how high they might rank on IQ tests or how many pounds they might be able to lift in the gym, the days of enjoying any kind of long-term congenital superiority are gone.
The Nazis Did Not Have Fear of AI & Cyborgs. Awareness of humanity’s increasing vulnerability to superior AI and cyborgs was not possible in the 1930s during Adolph Hitler’s reign. As a result, it was much easier back then for Nazi scientists to intellectually (and even morally) justify the value of Eugenics in human societies as part of a grander vision of a genetically superior subset of the human race. Thus, the Nazis’ sense of empathy and compassion for their species was more easily suppressed back then, which made it much easier for them to perform their human experiments and atrocities with little or no remorse.
Hitler’s Eugenics Program Was Atrocious. To be clear, I’m certainly not saying Hitler’s Eugenics program was ethically consistent with the values and principles of a civilized human society; in fact, Eugenics is ethically and morally atrocious within the context of any civilized human society. However, from a purely objective scientific perspective, the Nazi’s had much less concern about becoming victims of their own doctrine of superiority because they did not experience the same fear and vulnerability that virtually all humans feel today in response to AI and cyborgs.
It’s No Longer Possible to Logically Embrace Sub-Species Enhancement Policies. Since the Nazis had no fear for the human species as a whole, the self-interest of the Nazis (from their perspective) could be logically limited to a specific subset of humanity (their so-called Aryan Race); whereas today, no individual human’s self-interest can be logically disconnected from the broader interests of our entire species. Today, the moment a scientist begins to think about a way to make one ethnic/racial group superior to another, they are instantly reminded that anything they might do to enhance the relative capacity of any subset of humanity will be overwhelmingly eclipsed by the rapid emergence of superhuman, AI-endowed cyborgs.
The Configuration of Capitalism Today Accelerates the Spread of Cyborgs. In today’s world, the debate has shifted from racial purity to species purity. But in reality, beneath the veneer of civilized society, this is a socioeconomic debate about who can afford the most powerful human augmentations. I suspect there are very few humans living today (and increasingly fewer with each passing generation) who would not augment themselves with AI brain implants, prosthetic devices, and genetic therapies to enhance their capabilities as long as they were reasonably safe. Why? Because the increasingly hostile competition among humans within capitalistic societies today creates a socioeconomic arms race. This, combined with the existential fear of AI and robots, is creating an increasingly hostile world for humans. This ominous trend will continue unless Capitalism is re-configured to be less hostile to humans.
Increasing the Resilience of Humanity. This is one of the reasons why I wrote the nonpartisan book, Broken Capitalism: This Is How We Fix It. The book provides concrete solutions to achieve a more sustainable and politically viable configuration for Capitalism, which is much less hostile to pure humans, while simultaneously preserving all the most important market-based economic incentives. The configuration proposed in my book would make Capitalism a much more powerful and efficient engine of broad-based prosperity for an increasingly vulnerable human species.