A pill to fall out of love, a robot to take care of the elderly: When does enhancement go too far?

On November 15th, 2017 the workshop „Ethics and Technolgy: Some Issues“ discussed the main controversies concerning technological development and ethics. At the institute for technical education and university didactics the three guest speakers Mario De Caro, Mirko D. Garasic and Steffen Steinert provided insights in the various topics considering thechnological deleopment and ethical issues. Not only students, academics and others gathered to discuss and exchange ideas, even Sunny (originally Nao), an autonomous, programmable humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, was there to announce Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics".


Starting the Workshop, Mario de Caro, Professor in Moral Philosophy (Roma Tre University/Tufts University) introduced the audience to the topic of „Sociopsychology and neuroscience vs. Responsibility“ and brought up the question on how to value someones moral behaviour. In safe situations it is often easy to act morally correct, to follow ethical norms and values. But what about unsafe situation, what about situations, that don’t seem fair to us? If we don‘t act morally correct, doesn‘t our action still have a very important value to ourselves? And how should we programm or teach robots to act morally correct if we ourselves sometimes fail to do so?

Tying into this discussion Mirko D. Garasic, Research Scholar (UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights) then continued the workshop with his presentation on brain enhancement and its effects on our relationships. It opend up an inspiring discussion on how far the enhancement of ourselves should go. To what extend is it justifiable to prevent (negative) emotional experiences from occurring or to cure them in case they alredy exist? For example by takig a love drug. Just imagine being heartbroken and able to cure your sadness by taking a pill that makes you fall out of love again. What would this kind of drug do to soldiers that are far away from their loved ones, risking their lives? And what would then be their difference to robots?

Steffen Steinert, PhD Candidate, (Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität München) too discussed the difference, or let’s say similarity, of humans and robots and what part they already and will play in our social world. Do we want robots to take care of our elderly? Do we want streets full of self-driving-cars? Those and further questions led to a very interessting discussion on what kind of rights robots should or shouldn’t be given and to what extend technical intelligence could be a threat to our society.

The workshop Ethics and Technology: Some Issues is linked to the project Tekethics. which is an open learning project of Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) in cooperation with the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights in Rome, the IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca and funded by the Hamburg Open Online University (HOOU, hoou.de). It aims to introduce people to the main controversies in contemporary bioethics, especially to those concerning the intersection between ethics and technology. Therefore there will be an extra chapter to the project regarding the outcome and discussions of this workshop. You can find more information here: https://tekethics.rz.tuhh.de