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Noelle Witwer, '16

Cognitive Science major; Bluffton, Indiana.

"Ethical theory may have a difficult time keeping pace with the advancement of technology--yet it’s imperative to the human race that it does. One particular technological advancement--the development of artificial intelligence--brings with it essential and basic ethical concerns. Two of the most important of these concerns will be, firstly: ‘Are human beings somehow inherently ‘special’ in comparison to any animal or machine?’, and secondly: ‘To what extent is it ethical to supplement humans physically or mentally with AI technology?’".

"The first of these questions has been debated for centuries. According to Aristotle, humans earned their high ranking on the 'Great Chain of Being' due to their unique ability to reason. However, Aristotle probably never imagined that one day humans would be facing the possibility of creating machines with equal or greater reasoning capabilities than human beings. If such machines were created, we would be faced with two options: either we would need to come up with something else that makes human beings special, or we would have to accept intelligent machines as our equals or superiors. Most importantly, we would be faced with the issue of whether a mechanical consciousness is equal in value to a human life."

"A second ethical implication of the development of AI technology, one which is already relevant to our present-day culture is the question of whether or not it is ethical to supplement humans’ minds and bodies with technology. Bionic humans are not simply a concern for the distant future--in fact, they already exist. Every person with a cochlear implant or a prosthetic limb, every person with glasses or dentures, can be considered bionic. We have been enhancing our abilities with technology for centuries--at what point should we draw the line, if at all? Would it be ethical to supplement the human brain to give humans new abilities, like processing information more quickly or seeing in infrared? Would such a person still be considered human?"

"Furthermore, where do we draw the line between repairing what human beings already naturally have, and giving humans new abilities? If we decide that it is unethical to give humans 'unnatural' abilities like seeing in infrared, is it still ethical to give a baby that was 'naturally' born deaf the ability to hear? This issue becomes particularly relevant when we consider potential life-prolonging technology. Although many people would jump at the chance to extend their youth and their lives by a couple hundred years, or achieve immortality, the question remains of whether a prolonged or eternal life is, in fact, ethical. Wouldn’t we be denying potential following generations their chance of existence if the world had a stagnant population of seven billion eternally living people?"

Noelle Witwer is a senior Cognitive Science major with an interest in medicine. She is a journalist for The DePauw, the biweekly student newspaper, and is involved in several volunteer organizations on campus such as the Nonfood Pantry and Adopt a Grandparent. After graduation, she plans to apply to medical school and to continue to explore the many intersections between medicine and ethics.

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