Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Uplifting animals? Yes we should

Definitely feeling an anti-uplift vibe in the comments section and in personal emails; at the very least it seems people are a bit 'meh' about the whole thing.

Funny -- for my leftie, vegetarian, animal rights leaning transhumanist comrades this is somewhat of a no-brainer. Makes me wonder what kind of ideological underpinnings exist that can predetermine one's position on the matter...

But what's with the animal exclusionism?

Why should only human persons be uplifted to a postbiological condition? Assuming we get to a posthuman, post-Singularity state, does it really make sense to leave the natural world exactly as it is? I thought the whole point of this futurist exercise was to figure out ways to rework the entire ecosystem such that we can finally retire the autonomous process of artificial selection and all the pointless suffering therein. Given the advent of postbiological space, what would be the point of continuing to allow the existence of biological creatures who have to wallow and struggle through the slime?

Moreover, I've never suggested that we augment dolphins and elephants so they become post-dolphins and post-elephants. I make it very clear in my paper (which it appears most people haven't bothered to read) that the uplift exercise is more radical than people think:
A future world in which humans co-exist with uplifted whales, elephants and apes certainly sounds bizarre. The idea of a United Nations in which there is a table for the dolphin delegate seems more fantasy than reality. Such a future, however, even when considering the presence of uplifted animals, may not turn out just quite the way we think it will.

Intelligence on the planet Earth is set to undergo a sea change. Post-Singularity minds will either be manifest as cybernetic organisms, or more likely, as uploaded beings. Given the robust nature of computational substrate, intelligence is set to expand and diversify in ways that we cannot yet grasp, suffice to say that postbiological beings will scarcely resemble our current incarnation.

In this sense, “postbiological” is a more appropriate term than “posthuman”. The suggestion that posthumans will live amongst post-apes and post-elephants misses the point that a convergence of intelligences awaits us in our future. Our biological heritage may only likely play a very minor part in our larger postbiological constitution – much like the reptilian part of our brain does today in terms of our larger neurological functioning.

And like the other sapient animals who share the planet with us, and with whom we can claim a common genetic lineage, we will one day look back in awe as to what was once our shared biological heritage.
I hope this clarifies things and sets a more expansive vision of what I have in mind when I say uplift. And what is meant by a post-Singularity ecosystem.

As for the morality of the whole thing and the issue of obligations, again I would direct readers to my paper. But in summary, uplift technologies represent a primary good in the Rawlsian sense. So it becomes an issue of social justice once all persons are included -- human or otherwise (and if you can't accept the fact that not all persons are humans, well then I'm surprised you find any value to my blog). Nonhuman persons have a right to these technologies and it is our obligation as the most capable and informed members of the larger social community to make them available.

And by using Rawl's notion of original position, we can assume consent; as a thought experiment, if you had the choice of being born as a radically advanced postbiological entity or a bonobo in the jungle, you would undoubtedly choose the former.

Animal uplift is an important issue -- one that touches upon everything from animal welfare and social justice right through to our most fantastical futurist visions. It may be a highly philosophical and speculative line of inquiry today, but the day is fast coming when this will become a very relevant issue.

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