2.6.1 Life Extension
In a world in which artifacts and information survive much longer than the human body, there will be increasing pressure to also extend the human lifespan. As Floridi (Chapter “Commentary by Ganascia”) observes, “more people are alive today than ever before,” while at the same time about 100,000 people die every day because of aging. Anticipating a significant prolongation of the human lifespan or wishing for immortality opens up a Pandora's Box of countless challenges related to evolution and sustainability. Research that aims at the prolongation of life expands in different directions, ranging from DNA manipulations to manufactured biological or bionic organ replacements, to nano-technology and stem cell–technology based treatments. The ethical and sustainability challenges that accompany these developments require not only relevant research but also appropriate attention and policies (Hildebrandt: Chapter “Hyperhistory and the Philosophy of Information Policies”). We might have to reconsider the right to live longer than other creatures on earth (or in the universe), the right to interfere with nature, and the right to take evolution into human hands.
2.6.2 Authentic Participation in Decision Making and Governance
Today's technologies enable many more people to live longer and better lives and therefore to be able to interact with each other for longer periods. Such technologies also allow them to share and interact in multiple public (real and virtual) spaces. This increased connectivity, in conjunction with greater access to information and knowledge, inevitably enables more people to participate in debates and decisions. Such developments also increase the possibilities for disagreements and conflicts, however. The science of structured dialogic design discussed in part one of this chapter predicts that the capacity of a community of stakeholders to implement a plan of action effectively depends strongly on the genuine engagement of all those whose lives might be affected (Flanagan and Christakis 2009; Laouris 2012) and that disregarding their participation is not only unethical but also means that any plans made are bound to fail (Laouris et al. 2008). Therefore, the concept and the means to such authentic participation will need to be reconsidered and redefined. We are in urgent need of technologies that would enable massive collaboration to accelerate decision making (Laouris and Christakis 2007) and, consequently, positive social change. The struggle to extend public spaces, in which humans interact and increase affordances and freedoms, must be accompanied by parallel developments in methodologies and technologies that can effectively guarantee that wisdom will always prevail in our choices and actions.
2.6.3 Access to Technologies
The intelligence, size, and every other physical and mental characteristic of all species follow normal distributions with restricted standard deviations. Technological developments that significantly enhance humans might, even in the short term, significantly distort these distributions, especially if the economic, social, educational, and other gaps between the rich and the poor on the planet remain as large as they are. Despite the technological progress, elderly people and people with disabilities (COST Action-219ter 2010; Laouris and Michaelides 2007) as well as the public at large (COST Action-298 2007; Laouris et al. 2007) do not benefit sufficiently. Therefore, societies need to pay increasingly more attention to issues of access, accessibility and wide participation.
2.6.4 Privacy in a Globally Connected World
Data and information immortality pose enormous challenges to the concept of privacy. Privacy has two aspects: the power to control what information the individual wishes to reveal and the power to erase information that belongs to or concerns the individual. While the first becomes increasingly complicated, the second is virtually impossible today because of legal and technological constraints. For example, how are future humans protected from invisible manipulations that can take place via extensions of or attachments to their body and mind? Nothing remains strictly private or public. Privacy depends on the circumstances or even on one's financial caliber. How is privacy defined when it comes to artificial agents or interfaces connecting human brains with other brains or systems? The legal system and people's wisdom in general will need to catch up with developments in technology if they are ever going to be able to tackle questions of decision making and privacy in a globally connected world.
2.6.5 The Right to Digital Euthanasia
The feasibility of life extension increases the challenges to privacy because the chances that an individual might wish to delete something about himor her-self from the net undoubtedly grows with increasing life spans. Trying to solve this problem, which at first glance appears rather technical, creates enormous new challenges. The power to decide to erase any type of information from the internet is one of the greatest controversies in the discussions regarding EU Data protection regulation. In addition, the technical aspect is a lot more complicated than one would imagine. This is because in order to be able to trace and delete data that an individual has created, it would be necessary for the data produced by any individual (human or nonhuman) to bear some kind of signature and/or leave footprints behind, even when the data are copied, moved, or otherwise processed by others at any later stage. This opens a Pandora's Box of issues about privacy and anonymity. Furthermore, consider the case of more complex digital creatures, originally created by someone. If a digital agent evolves and acquires new knowledge, experiences, and skills, it starts to become something independent from its creator. Such possible futures force us to reconsider popular worldviews and the concept of what it means for a being to be alive or dead (or somewhere in between) or for a being to exist or not to exist (or something in between), as well as who has the right to decide about the life, death, existence, or extermination of such forms of life/information.
What Is Human?
With the blurring between the living and the nonliving, between biologicallynature-made and technologically-nature-made artifacts, comes an urgent need to identify explicitly the true and deep characteristics that define the human and distinguish people from the nonhuman. For example, only humans are concerned with the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. Moreover, the search for gratification and the ability to create conditions to develop rights and codes of ethics are found only in humans, although there are rudimentary versions in some primates and dolphins. As far as we knew until recently, only humans experience dreams while they sleep, have a theory of mind, and express and understand humor and irony. These are just a few examples of characteristics generally reserved for humans. The question is whether we invest enough in research to understand the effects of hyperconnectivity and of the extension of public spaces with practically infinite parallel virtual spaces on these presumably human properties. How many government policies or societal priorities care and protect the characteristics that are fundamental to the concept of being human? It must be top priority not only to research and understand, but more importantly to nurture and safeguard whatever truly distinguishes humans from everything else in this universe.