Dignity and enhancement

Abstract

Does human enhancement threaten our dignity as some prominent commentators have asserted? Or could our dignity perhaps be technologically enhanced?

After disentangling several different concepts of dignity, this essay focuses on the idea of dignity as a quality, a kind of excellence admitting of degrees and applicable to entities both within and without the human realm. I argue that dignity in this sense interacts with enhancement in complex ways which bring to light some fundamental issues in value theory, and that the effects of any given enhancement must be evaluated in its appropriate empirical context.

Yet it is possible that through enhancement we could become better able to appreciate and secure many forms of dignity that are overlooked or missing under current conditions. I also suggest that in a posthuman world, dignity as a quality could grow in importance as an organizing moral/aesthetic idea.

ESSAY: Nick Bostrom



The vulnerable world hypothesis

Abstract

Scientific and technological progress might change people’s capabilities or incentives in ways that would destabilize civilization. For example, advances in DIY biohacking tools might make it easy for anybody with basic training in biology to kill millions; novel military technologies could trigger arms races in which whoever strikes first has a decisive advantage; or some economically advantageous process may be invented that produces disastrous negative global externalities that are hard to regulate.

This paper introduces the concept of a vulnerable world : roughly, one in which there is some level of technological development at which civilization almost certainly gets devastated by default, i.e. unless it has exited the ‘semi‐anarchic default condition’.

Several counterfactual historical and speculative future vulnerabilities are analyzed and arranged into a typology. A general ability to stabilize a vulnerable world would require greatly amplified capacities for preventive policing and global governance.

The vulnerable world hypothesis thus offers a new perspective from which to evaluate the risk‐benefit balance of developments towards ubiquitous surveillance or a unipolar world order.