Fritz Allhoff, Patrick Lin, James Moor, and John Weckert

We have heard much about the “digital divide”, but one day there may well be a “nano divide”: the gap between those who can access and benefit from nanotechnology and those without. If there is also an “enhancement divide”, it could prove to be an even greater disadvantage for those on the wrong side. They would not be as physically or mentally capable as others. What policies, if any, should be developed to either avoid or cope with this situation?
The rise of information and communications technology (ICT) led to the so-called “digital divide”: those who did not have adequate access to the technology were disadvantaged relative to those who did. While this divide reflected, by and large, the existing divide between haves and have-nots, ICT exaggerated that divide. Not long ago, the less advantaged within developed societies could listen to the radio, go to the free public library, and read inexpensive newspapers. As information and communication increasingly moved to the Internet, their access to both information and communication decreased relative to that by the more advantaged. It is feared by some that nanotechnology will also sharpen and widen divisions both within societies and between nations: a nano divide will be created. Whether or not this happens depends partly on how nanotechnology develops. If its applications are primarily in enhancing existing materials, cosmetics, electronics and medicine and if these are relatively inexpensive, then there may be no increase in inequalities. However, if they are expensive and particularly useful and desirable, then they probably will.

2 thoughts on “Fritz Allhoff, Patrick Lin, James Moor, and John Weckert

  1. shinichi Post author

    Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers

    by Fritz Allhoff, Patrick Lin, James Moor, and John Weckert

    1. What is human enhancement?
    2. Is the natural-artificial distinction morally significant in this debate?
    3. Is the internal-external distinction morally significant in this debate?
    4. Is the therapy-enhancement distinction morally significant in this debate?
    5. Why would contexts matter in the ethics of human enhancement?
    6. What are some examples of enhancement for cognitive performance?
    7. What are some examples of enhancement for physical performance?
    8. Should a non-therapeutic procedure that provides no net benefit be called an “enhancement”?
    9. Could we justify human enhancement technologies by appealing to our right to be free?
    10. Could we justify enhancing humans if it harms no one other than perhaps the individual?
    11. Does human enhancement raise issues of fairness, access, and equity?
    12. Will it matter if there is an “enhancement divide”?
    13. What kind of societal disruptions might arise from human enhancement?
    14. Are societal disruptions reason enough to restrict human enhancement?
    15. If individuals are enhanced differently, will communication be more difficult or impossible?
    16. Does the notion of human dignity suffer with human enhancements?
    17. Will we need to rethink the notion of a “good life”?
    18. Is there a right to be enhanced
    19. Could human enhancement give us greater or fewer rights?
    20. Is there an obligation in some circumstance to be enhanced?
    21. Should children be enhanced?
    22. What are the policy implications of human enhancement?
    23. Should there be limits on enhancements, e.g., for military purposes?
    24. Might enhanced humans count as someone’s intellectual property?
    25. Will we need to rethink ethics itself?

    **

    1. What is human enhancement?

    To begin with, we need to draw several important distinctions. Strictly speaking, “human enhancement” includes any activity by which we improve our bodies, minds, or abilities—things we do to enhance our well-being. So reading a book, eating vegetables, doing homework, and exercising may count as enhancing ourselves, though we do not mean the term this way in our discussion here. These so-called “natural” human enhancements are morally uninteresting because they appear to be unproblematic to the extent that it is difficult to see why we should not be permitted to improve ourselves through diet, education, physical training, and so on; yet it is still an open question whether emerging, engineered enhancements might or ought to be unproblematic as well.

    Rather, allow us to stipulate for the moment that “human enhancement” is about boosting our capabilities beyond the species-typical level or statistically-normal range of functioning for an individual (Norm Daniels, 2000). Relatedly, “human enhancement” can be understood to be different from “therapy”, which is about treatments aimed at pathologies that compromise health or reduce one’s level of functioning below this species-typical or statistically-normal level (Eric Juengst, 1997). Another way to think about human enhancement technologies, as opposed to therapy, is that they change the structure and function of the body (Greely, 2005). Admittedly, none of these definitions is immune to objections, but they are nevertheless useful as a starting point in thinking about the distinction, including whether there really is such a distinction.

    Thus, corrective eyeglasses, for instance, would be considered therapy rather than enhancement, since they serve to bring your vision back to normal; but strapping on a pair of night-vision binoculars would count as human enhancement, because they give you sight beyond the range of any unassisted human vision. As another example, using steroids to help muscular dystrophy patients regain lost strength is a case of therapy; but steroid use by otherwisehealthy athletes would give them new strength beyond what humans typically have (thereby enabling them to set new performance records in sports). And growing or implanting webbing between one’s fingers and toes to enable better swimming changes the structure and function of those body parts, counting then as a case of human enhancement and not therapy.

    Likewise, as it concerns the mind, taking Ritalin to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is aimed at correcting the deficit; but taken by otherwise-normal students to enable them to focus better in studying for exams is a form of human enhancement. And where reading a book may indeed make you more knowledgeable, it does not make you so much smarter than most everyone else or push your intellect past natural limits; on the other hand, a computer chip implanted into your brain that gives you direct access to Google or spreadsheets would provide mental capabilities beyond the species-typical level.

    **

    12. Will it matter if there is an “enhancement divide”?

    We have heard much about the “digital divide”, but one day there may well be a “nano divide”: the gap between those who can access and benefit from nanotechnology and those without. If there is also an “enhancement divide”, it could prove to be an even greater disadvantage for those on the wrong side. They would not be as physically or mentally capable as others. What policies, if any, should be developed to either avoid or cope with this situation?

    The rise of information and communications technology (ICT) led to the so-called “digital divide”: those who did not have adequate access to the technology were disadvantaged relative to those who did. While this divide reflected, by and large, the existing divide between haves and have-nots, ICT exaggerated that divide (Rooksby and Weckert, 2004). Not long ago, the less advantaged within developed societies could listen to the radio, go to the free public library, and read inexpensive newspapers. As information and communication increasingly moved to the Internet, their access to both information and communication decreased relative to that by the more advantaged. It is feared by some that nanotechnology will also sharpen and widen divisions both within societies and between nations: a nano divide will be created. Whether or not this happens depends partly on how nanotechnology develops. If its applications are primarily in enhancing existing materials, cosmetics, electronics and medicine and if these are relatively inexpensive, then there may be no increase in inequalities. However, if they are expensive and particularly useful and desirable, then they probably will.

    This in itself does not show that there is a problem, of course. There is a problem only if the created inequalities are unfair and therefore morally wrong. Technologies have both benefits and costs and inequities can occur in both. Just as benefits can be distributed unequally, so can the costs, but none of these inequalities is necessarily wrong, it can be argued. The argument that they do not matter morally can be derived from a number of ethical theories, but it also depends on the particular enhancements in question. Enhancements for a few that enable them to better solve the world’s environmental problems would satisfy Rawls’ difference principle in that the extra inequality in ability would help the worst off (Rawls, 1971). Enhancements in sporting ability or other abilities that benefit only the person enhanced would fall foul of that principle and so perhaps should not be allowed. They might however, be justified on utilitarian grounds, if they help increase total happiness, or on the basis of desert or some other way. So the question “Will it matter if there is an enhancement divide?”, like many of the questions we explore in this report, cannot be easily answered but will involve an examination of the enhancements in question and of the underlying ethical theories.

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