14 September 2014


Susanne Brauer

Susanne Brauer is an independent philosopher and ethicist who co-owns a company for consulting and research in bioethics, Brauer & Strub. She was a member of the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics from 2010 to 2012. Moreover, she co-authored a position-paper on Virtue Engineering, published by the Swiss Academies of Art and Sciences in 2012.

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Andy Miah

“Andy Miah is the Renaissance man of the enhancement enlightenment” Kristi Scott, H+ Magazine

“Andy Miah is no ordinary academic. Part futurologist, part philosopher, his work on the science of sport grew to encompass bioethics, medical law and now covers all aspects of the way technology impacts on human beings” The Scotsman.

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Timandra Harkness

Timandra Harkness writes and broadcasts on science, technology, motoring, opera and lots more. And she’s currently touring with her new comedy show Brainsex, which she performed - with good reviews - at the Edinburgh Festival.

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chaired by:

Rob Lyons

Rob Lyons is a columnist for *spiked*, the online current-affairs magazine
that takes the attitude that ‘Humanity is underrated’. He writes on a wide range of issues, but takes a particular interest in issues around the environment, food, technology, energy and risk.

Rob’s book, *Panic on a Plate: How society developed an eating disorder*, was published by Societas in October 2011. He is a frequent commentator on TV and radio.

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Is technology leaving society and ethics behind? – Denkfest Sunday Debate

Technology and science are moving forward at an extraordinary and increasing pace. Many people fear that this brings with it unplanned and potentially unacceptable risk. They say science is amoral and makes ‘progress’ without regard to the cost and benefits it brings.

Human cloning, for instance, seemingly treats humans as objects to be manipulated. The development of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and consequent ability to tweak genes to produce so-called designer babies and/or deselect ones of the “wrong” sex sparks visions of Huxley’s nightmarish Brave New World.


But others say they welcome the merging of man and machine, man and manmade-biology and the transhumanist (post human) world this produces. Others say, hey, but what does this mean morally and ethically? How can we be sure that we are doing the right thing? They say we are being overwhelmed by “unnatural” and dangerous change.

Meanwhile, robots and computers are seemingly set to seize our jobs and perhaps even become sentient. Indeed, in a world of driverless cars, human-free factories and robot-operated international space-stations, machines increasingly look like a match for skilled human ‘knowledge workers’. It is feared that our increased reliance on smart machines, coinciding with increasing income inequality, could potentially have social effects similar to those of the original Industrial Revolution. So much so that Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has declared ‘sympathy for the Luddites’.

Does the contemporary debate recognize some of the costs involved in technological and scientific progress, or is it evading some of the underlying economic, moral and social issues? Or has the new scientific and technological revolution been greatly exaggerated by scientists and techno-fans? If not, are we ready for – or are we even aware of – the ethical and social challenges that lie ahead?

Preceding Talks

The Salon debate will follow two presentations given by Adriano Mannino on moral enhancements and virtue engineering, and Boaz Heller on exponential technical development: what are we to expect from computing power, nano- and biotech.

Recommended reading:

  1. The Law of Accelerating Returns
    By Ray Kurzweil - author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, director of engineering at Google
    Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.
  2. Ethical  Issues  Raised  by  Human  Enhancement
    By Professor Andy Miah
    Miah identifies three levels of ethical concern: individual, professional and social. Individual ethical concerns encompass debates about whether the means of achieving goals in life matters, considerations about an authentic life, prudence and promoting an open future, and finally morphological freedom. Professional ethical concerns involve the codes of ethics that govern medical practice and the ethics of cultural practices.
  3. The rise of the machines? Not any time soon
    By Dr Kathleen Richardson
    Do humanists “‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, so to speak, by rejecting the idea that nonhuman animals and machines might possess or come to possess consciousness? And what might anthropology contribute to this discussion?..... Traditional and embodied based robotic researchers are interested in developing autonomous artificial machine systems. ....At present though much of the talk about a revolution in AI consciousness is really fantasy dressed up as science.
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