The rise of the Chief Ethicist Officer
As we race towards what is known as The Singularity and we make exponential leaps in medical research, there is an executive position re-emerging; Chief Ethical Officer.
The Singularity, also referred to as the Technological Singularity, indicates a point where machines surpass the intelligence of humans, a point where humans cannot think in advance of the machines. Quantum computers can already achieve this.
A problem fed into today’s desktop computers and given to a room full of specialists may be solved within weeks. Quantum computers are solving the problem within minutes.
The machines referred to in relation to the Singularity might be AI.
They might also take the form of a fusion between human and AI.
The Singularity is a term that was originated by John von Neumann, a mathematician, in the 1950’s. More recently, Ray Kurzweil, futurist and cofounder of Singularity University has popularised discussions around the concept.
But have we moved beyond ‘concept’?
Elon Musk is advocating the merger of human with machine.
The Transhumanist movement is gaining momentum. Zoltan Istvan, an advocate of the movement, is running for Governor of California this year. The theory is that a robotic body will be better than the one we have. Our bodies begin dying from the day we are born. Not so synthetic parts.
The question we face is, if we could upload our brain/consciousness/soul into a robot and live forever, would we?
Medical Research recently succeeded in the cloning of monkeys.
Cloning of animals isn’t a recent accomplishment. The first animal to be cloned was a sea urchin in 1885. What makes the cloning of monkeys so important is the successful cloning of an animal so close to humans in DNA. Experiments in Gene Splicing, where sections of DNA have been removed and replaced by new DNA, are occurring globally. The designer babies of science fiction are now science ‘possible’.
Neil Harbisson is the world’s first cyborg. Officially. He is a colourblind artist who senses colour through an antenna implanted in his skull. His next project? He wants to sense time.
Sophia, the social humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics, is currently the centre of debate. Scientists and engineers are arguing about how human ‘she’ really is. ‘She’ has also been granted Saudi Arabian citizenship.
What is the role of the Chief Ethicist Officer? The role has existed since the 1990’s. Some have said that the role is simply a façade for companies and organisations to hide behind. Traditionally the role of the CEthicistO has been to deal with complaints and allegations, conflicts of interest, and act as advisor. In more recent times the role is morphing into an advisory and central control for ethical conversations around Medtech, Fintech and AI. Anywhere exponential technologies may lead us.
It is no longer simply a matter of compliance. It is no longer simply “can we do that” or “is it legal” or “is it appropriate for our organisation”.
We are now engaging in debates as to whether we “should”.
How far should we go with the Singularity? How long should we live for in transhumanist terms? Where do we draw the line between ‘acceptable’ and ‘too far’?
Seth Godin has said that the person who invented the car invented the car crash. We can’t go back. Imagine life without a Smart Phone or laptop. Technology has democratised education, demonetised industries, and increased the research capacity of the health industry to save millions, probably billions of lives. But
we do not fully understand the Pandora’s Box we have opened. A Chief Ethicist Officer may potentially keep us alert and thinking about the road on which we travel.
Simon Sinek has said “An idea without action is hallucination”.
We cannot possibly deny the opportunities technology affords us. Tom Kelley from IDEO believes “Our best work comes as we blend technology with humanity”. We know the most successful businesses throughout history, have utilised the latest technology of their time.
In deciding what is right or wrong, deciding what is ethical and what is not, we judge based on our truths. Each truth we hold is unique to us. Our truths are layered by our own perceptions.
The question is, how far would you go to save the life of someone you love?