Will Robots Inherit the Earth?
THE FAILURES OF ETHICS
This article bears on our rights to have children, to change
our genes, and to die if we so wish. No popular ethical system
yet, be it humanist or religion-based, has shown itself able
to face the challenges that already confront us. How many
people should occupy Earth? What sorts of people should
they be? How should we share the available space? Clearly,
we must change our ideas about making additional children.
Individuals now are conceived by chance. Someday, though,
they could be composed in accord with considered desires
and designs. Furthermore, when we build new brains, these
need not start out the way ours do, with so little knowledge
about the world. What sorts of things should our new chil-
dren know? How many of them should we produce and who
should decide their attributes?
Whatever the unknown future may bring, already we are
changing the rules that made us. Although most of us will
be fearful of change, others will surely want to escape from
our present limitations. When I decided to write this article, I
tried these ideas out on several groups and had them respond
to informal polls. I was amazed to find that at least three quar-
ters of the audience seemed to feel that our life spans were
already too long. Why would anyone want to live for five
hundred years? Wouldnt it be boring? What if you outlived
all your friends? What would you do with all that time? they
asked. It seemed as though they secretly feared that they did
not deserve to live so long. I find it rather worrisome that so
many people are resigned to die.
My scientist friends showed few such concerns. There are
countless things that I want to find out, and so many problems
I want to solve, that I could use many centuries, they said.
Certainly, immortality would seem unattractive if it meant
endless infirmity, debility, and dependency upon others but