Ethics Talk at a School

Earlier this month I was invited back to the Bishops Stortford High School to do a talk for its Ethics and Citizenship Course.  This is a new, mandatory part of the national curriculum, and a good thing too.

I spoke about the role of a whistleblower in a democratic society, and also about the erosion of our democratic freedoms.  About 300 pupils attended, and the response was fantastic, with many interesting and intelligent questions.  And so there should be – this is the generation that will have to deal with the mess we are making of our civil liberties in this country.

Singularity Society

And so to my first transhumanist meeting recently. No, this is not some kinky practice imported from Holland. Transhumanism is the study of the impact of developing technologies on the human – the eradication of genetically inherited diseases, increased longevity, augmentation and mental enhancement.

I’ve been introduced to the implications of cutting edge technology over the last year – and it’s been a bit of a culture shock for a classicist. But as technology develops faster and faster, probably leading to a “singularity” where artificial intelligence develops exponentially and humans cannot keep up, we all need to start factoring this in to how we see the world changing in the next 20 – 30 years.

The vast majority of us think that the current political and economic frameworks will continue in pretty much the same format, with the odd war and recession, in the foreseeable future. Few of us factor in the seismic shift that is looming. We worry about the credit crunch, the price of food and fuel, Big Brother (alas, generally the TV show, not the deteriorating social contract between governments and the governed), and the wars. But what will happen if we wake up one day to find that we as a species are no longer the numero uno intelligence on the planet?

This need not be dystopic. We may suddenly find enduring problems for humanity – including the biggies like war, plague and famine – are eradicated. And we could see an advance in biotech that will lead to healthier and longer lives for all of us.

But one stray thought keeps recurring to me: the great MI5 is apparently failing to see the implications. What will happen to their 100-year non-disclosure rule when we all live to be 150? Will we finally get to see our files? My betting is that they will suddenly find urgent national security reasons to extend the secrecy time frame…..