Published September 19, 2017 | Version v1
Preprint Open

Governance and Assessment of Future Spaces: A Discussion of Some Issues Raised by the Possibilities of Human-Machine Mergers

  • 1. University of Dublin
  • 2. University College London


‘In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes, For they in thee a thousand errors note; But ‘tis my heart that loves what they despise …’ 1 This sonnet and the ancient Japanese notion of wabi-sabi view aesthetics or beauty as imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Rather than celebrating the human diversity created by our ‘imperfections’, today's society increasingly focuses on them as ‘areas for improvement’, often via a doctor’s scalpel or the latest gadget. Developments in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) promise a tomorrow where ‘errors’ or ‘deficiencies’ in an organism’s genetic and/or phenotypic makeup can be modulated, enhanced, corrected, redefined or eradicated by, for instance, networks of biological nanomachines. Upgraded organisms will be convolutions of organic parts, electronic components, microchips, and biomechanotronic devices. Humans 1.0, Humans 2.0 and transhumans will live in new fully immersive worlds (virtual reality), inhabit a modified real world (augmented reality), and exist with an altered body schema (mixed-reality). This future world could be a place of total technological convergence, where it may not be possible to ensure privacy of an individual’s thoughts. It could also be a place where people can be subjected to Social Engineering and manipulation, including the potential for viruses and malware infecting the brain or body, as well as new forms of external control of individuals by third parties. In this discussion paper, we will explore the potential privacy, security, and ethical issues raised by humanmachine mergers. The focus is on research, development and products at the intersection of robotics, artificial intelligence, Big Data, and smart computing. We suggest that there is a need for a more holistic approach to the assessment of technology and its governance. Additionally, we suggest that in order to determine how the law will need to respond to this particular future space, it is necessary to understand the full impacts of human-machine mergers on societies and our planet – to go beyond these three issues. Since STEMM-related activities are promising a cornucopia of future spaces, we will propose that the problems of governance and assessment require a new conception of ‘responsible research and innovation’, one that is fulfilled by our recently proposed FLE5 SH framework.2 To some extent the FLE5 SH framework can be seen as allowing the formation of a social contract, whereby all stakeholders are required to engage in a review of this wider spectrum of the possible impacts of technologies. We suggest that a Precautionary Principle approach may be of assistance in considering the impacts of technologies, remembering that especially in the context of software based systems, it is always useful to think first and bugfix later.



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