Bio: Risa Kanai is a Japanese-American student pursuing a double major in Global Liberal Studies and Public Policy at New York University. Her interests revolve around the cultural exchange between Japan and the United States, the evolution of artificial intelligence, and philosophy.
As a generally optimistic consumer society, we tend to focus on the potential benefits of technological fusion, including increased longevity of the human life span and the improvement of living conditions for people living with disabilities. However, for others, it is more difficult to focus on the positive advantages over the ethical setbacks that could result from surrendering your physical body for a permanent existence in the digital realm.
So, what do these ethical and moral dilemmas consist of? Moral conflicts seem to arise primarily from the systematic opposition between religion and science, especially considering how the notion of defying death may at times directly challenge certain individuals’ religious beliefs and moral values. For instance, in a survey conducted by the U.S. in 2014, 59% of American Muslims declared that there is no conflict between religion and science, while indicating that at least 40% of remaining American Muslims would agree that religion and science are opposite entities that can never coexist. The results of the study affirm that religious beliefs are one of the main causes of opposition against science and technology, suggesting how the notion of defying death through artificial means may contradict religious doctrines in a multitude of ways.
Furthermore, Christian Orthodox theologian Brandon Galagher argues the incompatibility of Transhumanism and religious doctrine by inserting his own extremist view on this dynamic by claiming, “Transhumanism [is] demonic because it is a form through which man venerates himself” (Cira 72). Călin Emilian Cira, another religious contemporary, comments in reaction to Galagher’s argument that “from [these] harsh statements we could extrapolate that there can be no form of dialogue between Orthodoxy and Transhumanism” (Cira 72). The conviction of scholars in the religious field further confirms the paradoxical relationship between religion and technology, confirming that social consequences will indeed arise from future clashes between religious orthodoxy and transhumanist theory. It is simply intriguing that despite the recent drastic progress in technology, in our current global stage we are still experiencing the same social resistance against science and technology, such as the one between orthodoxy and natural law during the Scientific Revolution. Today’s conflict is a mere derivative of similar earlier clashes in history.
In addition to the data supporting the conflicting nature between religion and technology, subtle resistance against Transhumanism is evident in a UK survey conducted in 2016. The survey revolved around microchips that would digitally store personalized data and would be implanted under one’s skin. The surveyors guaranteed that personal privacy would be protected. When asked if they would voluntarily participate and implant the chips in their bodies, 52% of the surveyed British residents flatly refused to engage in this seemingly beneficial offer. Considering that this implant would not involve the removal of a human limb or surrendering any part of the physical body, it is astonishing to see how unwilling many individuals are when they appear face-to-face with a life-altering choice. The results of the British survey concerning the public reaction toward technological development indicate how even despite the appeal of a better quality of life, there is a portion of the consumer audience which adamantly refuses to cast aside their bodies—for religious, moral, and other personal reasons—in favor of artificial progress.
The mass media and general public aren’t the only ones debating these broad issues concerning technology and its potential ethical oppositions. The enterprises and organizations, the very developers and proponents of the movement, keep a consistent tab on their technological progress while considering the same ethical values deemed important in the eyes of the consumer audience to whom they are selling their product. In fact, 40% of AI organizations in 2020 have designated a special team of researchers to monitor the development and use of artificial intelligence from an ethical perspective. Thus, this effort, on behalf of AI developer companies, can be interpreted as a genuine attempt at addressing and perhaps finding solutions to the various concerns plaguing their consumer audience.
In its current status, while seemingly paradoxical in juxtaposition to my earlier stance on the exponential growth in technology, it is still in its developing stages of infancy. Yes, the evolution of technology is advancing day by day, hour by hour; even to this very second, as you are finishing this sentence. It may take years until we must face this life-altering decision whether we would be willing to upload our human conscience onto a sophisticated AI program or not. Whether the decision arrives decades later or is on our front doorsteps in a matter of months, it is most likely never too early to begin pondering the implications of shedding your natural existence for that of an artificial, albeit superior, vessel.
ComRes. “If Your Privacy Was 100 Percent Guaranteed, Would You Have a Microchip Implanted in Your Hand? United Kingdom (UK) Survey 2016*.” Nesta , 26 Apr. 2016.
“Focus on Ethics in AI in Large Organizations/Enterprises Worldwide in 2020.” Shibboleth Authentication Request, Capgemini, July 2020.
Liu, Shanhong. “Most Important Factors in Trusting Artificial Intelligence (AI) within Companies in the United States as of March 2019.” EY, 2019.
Lockhart, Luke E. A. “Transhumanism.” Research Starters, Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019.
Pew Research Center. “United States: Share of Muslims Who Say There Is No Conflict between Religion and Science.” Statista Research Department, 30 Apr. 2014.