Perhaps the biggest challenge looking forward to the future is to see our future selves. How will we change our biology & genetics? How will we make decisions about what we should alter? It's important because technology constantly changes our perceptions of right and wrong. So, what are ethics in regards to human life? Why making strong ethical and moral considerations is bad? What are some of the important ethical fights today that will impact the quality of life of our future generations? And what are some of the things we should be doing today to avoid being judged harshly by our future generations? In this episode of the Boldly NOW Show, academic, author, and futurist Juan Enriquez answers all these questions. He gives us new viewpoints and tools to make choices more wisely in the face of the neo-biological revolution.
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Full Show Notes
Juan Enriquez's latest book "Right/Wrong: How Technology Transforms Ethics, is a lively guide to ethics in a technological age. It's very different from his previous work, "Evolving Ourselves," which was a mind-bending exploration of how humanity is reshaping its genetic future. When the episode starts, he gives us a background of what led him to write his new book. In the rest of the episode, we discuss various aspects of the ethics debate in a technological age.
Ethics is not a very popular subject. Many people consider it boring. After all, most of us already know what’s right and wrong in our current social construct. We are familiar with how to behave with others, etc. However, what if there’s a 180 degrees shift in what’s right and wrong? Today, a lot of the changes in ethics are driven by technology. And when the change in technology accelerates, the change in ethics will also accelerate. Are we ready to face that challenge?
Juan believes technology will enable humanity to accept any such shift in ethics. There are a lot of things that technology makes faster, better, and cheaper. For instance, most humans are not vegetarian today. Once synthetic meat becomes cheaper than natural meat, killing billions of animals for meat will become a much harder position to defend. It will force humanity to rethink its ethics regarding killing animals. We rationalize ethics, and once we have an alternative, change will come easy.
But, to do that, we need to learn to hold two conflicting theories in mind. We may not always be right. Therefore, we should have an open mind about people with opposing views. Just like we judge the actions and beliefs of people from 30 years ago through the realities of today, we will be judged in the future by our future generations. Right and wrong can change. Most people believe if the other half disagrees with a viewpoint, they are such and such (a label). In reality, 98 percent of the people are decent human beings trying to do the right thing. Labeling them makes it easy to “otherize’ them. That's why in the heart of cultural wars today, you will find strong moral declarations.
The discussion then shifts to important ethical fights of the present. Juan considers nuclear proliferation, climate change, wealth concentration, and wealth inequality the biggest ethical struggles today. Unfortunately, nuclear proliferation has gotten off the minds of many people. In a time when more people can proliferate, the rise of fanatical actors has rendered MAD ineffective. The traditional architecture of stability has fallen apart. Similarly, there are the problems of climate change and wealth inequality. The time to do something about it is now because we have options to move forward globally. Otherwise, our future generations will judge us harsher than we judge our past generations.
Juan also talks in detail about big ethical considerations in neo-biology. We are going through a neo-biological revolution period. New discoveries are opening up new debates and new avenues of moral considerations. For example, we can freeze sperms today and have identical twins 20 years apart. If you bring a couple from 30 years ago to the present, the mere idea of frozen sperms will give them a huge shock. Likewise, if your grandchildren bring you forward 30 years in the future, you will be gobsmacked by how fast technology moved.
Today, we know it's a lot safer to bring a baby to term in a synthetic womb. You can bring a baby to term far earlier. It's a lot easier to temper with the genetic code and take out the cancerous genes, etc. These advancements are opening a new Pandora box of ethical debates, but the way we adopt these moral changes will determine the future of humanity.
The world and humanity evolve with evolving technology. For thousands of years, we believed the earth was flat. Then Galileo's telescope radically changed our entire perception of the universe. Such radical changes are now occurring within 2 to 3 years. So, we need to stop and ask ourselves these questions. How do we want to move forward? Sure, we may not come up with solid answers yet, but it's still a conversation worth having. At the same time, we need to approach this topic with humility. There aren't always two sides to a label. In fact, there's an entire spectrum to accurately outline the complexity of a given topic. As right and wrong can change, we should also be more flexible with our viewpoints.
● [00:46] – Juan Enriquez Introduction
● [01:58] – What made him write “Right/Wrong: How Technology Transforms Our Ethics?
● [04:08] – Ethics as a functional conversation for people
● [05:09] – How technology flips our notions of right and wrong
● [15:04] – Why making strong ethical and moral declarations today is bad
● [23:18] – Important ethical fights today that will impact the quality of life of our future generations
● [33:18] – Big ethical considerations in neurobiology today
● [43:56] – Things we should be doing in evolving our biology
There are a lot of things technology makes faster, better, cheaper
Most of us are not vegan because the alternative is very difficult for a lot of people
Rules change, and if you are not educated in a way that you keep learning… you end up on the wrong side of history faster and faster…
When you are so busy judging the present and past, you don't look at possibilities of the future.
Why let people starve when you can feed them? This is the biggest ethical question of our time.
The stuff that will come back to bite you the hardest is the stuff that you take for granted today.
The choices that my children or grandchildren will make may look horrifying to me, but to them, they will look normal and natural.
There's not two sides to a label. There's a damn kaleidoscope of stuff which we have bracketed and allowed ourselves to stereotype so that it’s us or them.
Right/Wrong: How Technology Transforms Our Ethics
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