Thursday, June 11, 2015

Conflict arises between “permissionless innovation” and “Governance Coordinating Committees”

Wendell Wallach is a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He is also a scholar with the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics (ASU), a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technology, and is a visiting scholar at The Hastings Center. At Yale Mr. Wallach has chaired the Center's working research group on Technology and Ethics for the past eight years and is a member of other research groups on Animal Ethics, End of Life Issues, and Neuroethics, according to his official bio.

In his recently-published book A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control, he proposes the creation of “Governance Coordinating Committees” that would guide the deployment of emerging innovative technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, germline genome editing, synthetic biology, and suchlike.

Ronald Bailey writes for the web site, and, on June 5th, he reviewed that book, under the headline:  “Riding the Techstorm:  An ethicist’s failed case against permissionless innovation.” stands for “Free Minds and Free Markets,” and is associated with the libertarian movement.  There is a strong libertarian influence in some strains of the transhumanist movement.  (For a fascinating and helpful guide to the intricacies of “biopolitics,” click here.)  Mr. Wallach pays a lot of attention to transhumanism and transhumanists in A Danger Master, and he doesn’t like their plan for rushing headlong into market-driven“upgrading” through the use of what he considers to be indiscriminate and injudicious deployment and use of emerging innovative technologies, which process he feels should be evaluated, discussed, and governed more thoroughly by a variety of stakeholders, rather than be decided upon by profit-seeking (libertarian) entrepreneurs or established companies looking for their next big payday.

Mr. Bailey disagrees.

At least and at last the questions around these issues can be raised and discussed more thoroughly, whatever individuals choose to do in regard to them in the meantime.

Some people think we should invest public money in transhumanizing technologies.  President Obama’s BRAIN initiative falls into this category.  Transhumanists want to be left alone and allowed to become transhuman.  Some cishumans want to stop them.  The libertarian transhumanists, as represented by Mr. Bailey’s piece, reject Mr. Wallach’s call for “Governance Coordinating Committees” that would guide what they want to see develop pretty much without any restrictions, any infringements on their liberty.

It's really a question of how much disruption you'd like to see. 

On a related note, an underwhelming lack of public support has led to the demise of the We the People White House petition calling for a “Federal Robotics Commission”, which received 14 of the 100,000 signatures it needed to be granted an official response from the Obama Administration.  Apparently there is not a large public appetite for a new federal agency that would presumably exercise some measure of control over the deployment of emerging robotic and artificial intelligence technological innovations.  Still, Wendell Wallach suggests we create “Governance Coordinating Committees” to oversee a benign and possibly bountiful roll-out of new technologies while avoiding major wrong turns at the inflection points where many of these technologies currently find themselves.

So, for now, it’s a Yale bio-ethicist vs. a libertarian who wants permissionless innovation.  Which side are you on?


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