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 número 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.….