PHL310: “ROBOTS, CLONING AND ARTIFICIAL LIFE: THE ETHICS OF EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES”
New Course Offered: 2021 Term 4. This course will again be offered in 2022 Term 1.
Day and time: Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30pm.
Dates: Our first Term 4 class meets Wednesday 20 October 2021 and continues for 8 consecutive weekly sessions. The last class is on Wednesday 8 December 2021. Our first Term 1 class meets of Wed 16 February and continues for 8 consecutive weekly sessions ending on 6th April 2022.
Location: On-line distance learning via Zoom only. Details for Zoom access will be sent to all students once they have registered for the course.
In 2018, Chinese scientists cloned monkeys, a genetic stone’s throw from us. In 2019, driverless taxis began circulating on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. In 2020, an Auckland nursing home trialed robotic harp seals to cherish the elderly and dispossessed. In 2021, medical researchers returned youthful vision to aging mice using cellular reprogramming. And the rate of such technological advancement is only accelerating. Meanwhile, our efforts to predict and comprehend the social consequences of remaking the world lag far behind.
This course will address the ethical and social implications of emerging technologies. Participants will contemplate genome editing, reproductive cloning, human enhancement, life-extension, and assistive robotics, among other topics. Topics selected for discussion overlap with “hot” issues with which public intellectuals, think tanks, and governments are currently grappling.
The format of each meeting will be a group discussion of a controversial case-study or other stimulus encompassing the scheduled topic. Pertinent areas of ethical theory and scientific knowledge will be resolved by the moderator along the way. In order to engage effectively, participants should anticipate expending some effort in acquainting themselves with the scheduled topics prior to each meeting. To assist with preparation, two or three brief and, occasionally, challenging readings will be assigned per topic. During each class, participants will learn by articulating their ideas and arguments, and by gently challenging each other’s understanding and assumptions. The goal is to attain conceptual coherence and moral clarity about controversial issues in a welcoming environment.
Week 1 (2.5 hours): Who should self-driving cars save when they crash What is the manner in which a self-driving car should crash? Ought self-driving cars be programmed to always prioritise their drivers, to minimise harm to pedestrians, or to minimise overall harm? Should all self-driving cars share the same “ethics settings”? Or should a person’s self-driving car function as a “proxy” for their own ethical outlook? Or should self-driving cars be equipped with an “ethical knob” so that whoever is currently using the car can set it to their ethical preferences? What criteria should determine who ought to be held responsible for unfortunate outcomes in collisions involving self-driving cars? Once self-driving cars become safer than regular cars, does the state have a duty to ban regular cars?
Week 2 (2 hours): Should parents genetically engineer their future children? What is genetic engineering? Is it morally coherent to use biotechnology for therapeutic purposes but not for the purposes of enhancement? Can parents rightfully exercise control over the genomes of their offspring? Might genetically enhancing our children demonstrate that we do not love them unconditionally? Would permitting commercially available genetic enhancement of children lead to the natural lottery becoming as unfair as the social lottery? Could we, nevertheless, be morally required to genetically enhance our children? Could purposely genetically impairing our children ever be morally acceptable?
Week 3 (2 hours): Should robots care for the elderly, infirm and disabled? What is meant by “care” in the context of assistive robotics? What is meant by “care” in the context of human nannies and nursing home staff? Could robots conceivably supply genuine companionship? Can human strangers be truly companionable? Under what circumstances might robot care of vulnerable elders infantilise, objectify and deceive them? Does the prospect of technologically dominated solutions for eldercare reflect a moral lapse in contemporary society? If so, what counts as a morally good society with respect to care of the vulnerable?
Week 4 (2 hours): Should infertile adults who want genetically related children be able to clone themselves? To what extent is reproduction a human right? What is cloning? Can cloning be regarded as just another method of assisted reproduction? To what degree would clones enjoy self-determination? Might clones lack human dignity? Might clones have confused and ambiguous family relationships? Is cloning for reproductive purposes morally acceptable?
Week 5 (2 hours): Should people live indefinitely long lives? Is aging a disease? Is it morally obligatory to value natural conditions because they are natural? Could an immortal being also be a human being? Are our moral rights and responsibilities inextricably linked to our existence as finite beings? Would society be able to cope with indefinite human life spans? Would people be able to maintain moral engagement with life if they lived indefinitely? Could mortal and immortal beings share a society?
Week 6 (2 hours): Should the state use trickery to promote the health of its citizenry? Is health good for everyone whether or not they value it? To what degree is the state justified in interfering in personal choices to advance its idea of health? Is it plausible that the implementation through social media of imperceptible psychological ‘nudges’ could steer people in directions that will promote their welfare while also preserving their freedom of choice? Would it be justifiable for hospitals to refuse to treat someone who, having been made aware that they had a higher than usual risk of some disease, had not made recommended lifestyle changes?
Week 7 (2 hours): Should scientists make animals more human-like? Can humans be morally distinguished from other animals and, in particular, higher primates? Should we enhance the mental capacities of animals in a way that leads us to reexamine their moral status? What bearing, if any, do the cognitive and emotional capacities of animals have on our justification to experiment upon them? If human-animal chimeras demonstrate mental capacities superior to that of average humans, what are the moral consequences for both parties?
Week 8 (2 hours): Might the advent of enchanting sex robots corrupt love? Is a digital simulation of love functionally equivalent to love? What is the moral significance of asymmetrical emotional bonds that only appear symmetrical? As machines have become more human-seeming, have humans become more machine-like? Might robot love and friendship turn out to be superior to conditional human relationships? Might the ordinarily compliant disposition of robots make people in relationships with robots less tolerant of other people?
Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.
Distance Learning: This course is available as an on-line only course and has no live in-person component. Students have two options for attending this course once they have registered:
- attend our live on-line classroom sessions via Zoom at the regular scheduled day and time,
- watch the live-recorded class sessions at your leisure, at a time, day and place more suited to your schedule.
These options can be mixed and matched throughout the course to suit your own availability and location.
Karim Lakhani (MBBS, MA): Educated at UCLA and Monash University, Karim is qualified in Medicine, Philosophy, and Bioethics. A son of refugees, Karim settled in New Zealand after living in four other countries. Over the years, he has worked as a doctor, radio personality, entrepreneur, and university lecturer, often simultaneously. An award-winning educator, Karim particularly enjoys demystifying science and disentangling philosophical quandaries. He is deeply interested in astrobiology, political theory, social technology, and the art of storytelling. Karim regularly contributes short fiction and poetry to literary magazines.
This course is offered on-line only and has no in-person component. Live-streamed classes are available via free Zoom software, which allows you to participate fully in your own learning, ask questions of the instructor and participate fully in the same way as if you were in the physical classroom.
Those unable to attend the scheduled date and time of the actual class sessions, or those who need to miss a class or two due to previous engagements or unexpected illness, can watch any or all of the live-recorded video sessions on their computers, laptops, tablets or mobile devices and study at their own pace and in their own time.
Detailed instructions on how to access our distance learning sessions will be sent after completing your registration. There are no additional fees for this service. However, distance learners will need access to a desktop or laptop computer with a good quality web-camera (tablet devices and mobile phones can also access our live-streamed classes), a built-in microphone (most modern laptops have built-in microphones) or a headset with a microphone. You will also need to download and install the free Zoom software on your computer or device. Those accessing the video recordings will be able to do so with a simple web browser on any device.
- Any Term can be taken independently of the others, and there are no prerequisites for any of the Term courses.
- Please note that this class has at-home reading assignments which are expected to be read before the associated class session.
- There are no quizzes, tests or exams.
- All classes encourage questions and group discussion.
- PDF copies of each class presentation are emailed to all participants the next day so that you are free to focus on class content rather than taking notes. You are most welcome to come, sit back, relax, take part in and enjoy the discussions!
- Course fees include a short tea/coffee/snack break in the middle of each session, however, with on-line courses, this is up to the discretion of the instructor, but there is usually a brief break for participants to stand up and grab a cuppa.
- There are no refunds for missed classes. Missed classes can be made up by watching the on-line recording of the class session, which is usually posted within 24 hours.
- Guests of registered participants are welcome to attend a single class at no charge.
- Certificates of Completion for any particular Term Course or Series are available for Professional Development purposes upon request at the end of each Term or Series.
Cost per person per Term (8 classes):
- Waged: $125 (includes GST + online registration fee)
- Unwaged (unemployed, students, seniors): $100 (includes GST + online registration fee)
Prices for Waged and Unwaged registrants remain the same regardless of your chosen method for accessing our courses. This means that you have the option to mix and match access between attending our regularly-scheduled live class sessions in our Hamilton classrooms, accessing our live class sessions on-line via Zoom at the regularly scheduled class meeting time (no matter where you are located), or watching the video-recorded sessions anywhere at a time and date of your choosing. This allows you to study at your own pace and in your own time.
Once registered, you have three choices for attending your course:
- attend our in-person class sessions in our Hamilton classrooms,
- Zoom in to our live classroom sessions and participate in discussions,
- access the live-recorded class sessions each week. This allows you to register for an entire course, even though the scheduled class session day/time may not be suitable to your schedule. You may also use this option to watch any recorded session for review, or in case you may miss a class session due to prior engagement, being away, or due to illness. This allows you to catch up with any “missed” sessions at a more suitable time.
Once registered, you will receive detailed instructions on how to access our courses via either of the distance-learning options, i.e. live access via Zoom, or watching the video-recorded sessions.
LOCATION: This course is offered on-line only via Zoom. Details for Zoom access will be sent to all students once they have registered for the course.
DISTANCE LEARNING: You get to choose your location when you Zoom in to our live classroom sessions, or access our classes at your leisure and at a time and day of your choosing by watching the video recorded sessions from each class. This allows you to study at your own pace and access class content from anywhere in the world.