Unfit for the Future: The Urgent Need for Moral Bioenhancement


Why we need a secular moral education for our children to survive the accelerating technological and societal change. We need to fund the systematic study of human moral limitations and find ways of living with ourselves or changing ourselves.

I really like this talk, and especially like the formula:

moral responsibility = foreseeability (your intelligence) * avoidability (your power)
blame = moral responsibility * harm

This is why limiting power is beneficial to those that have power - you reduce your responsibility. If the avoidability is only possible through group action then that term becomes another function which is your ability to coordinate with the group that shares power where maximizing your cooperation increases your ability to avoid problems instead of by seizing power.

Does this also mean that there is some utility in granting power inversely proportional to your ignorance/intelligence (at the cost of responsibility?)

How to optimize the separation / limitation of power to both be effective in overcoming avoidability thresholds and incent humans to participate, cooperate and increase their foreseeability of problems?


  • world safer than ever but our risk tracks the progression of technology
  • 70 million psychopaths in the world
    • what happens when one of them gets enough power to create/obtain a bio-weapon or other WMD?
  • we don’t see an accurate picture of the world
    • the more people have to empathize with the less we are capable of doing so (can’t imagine the suffering of a million people)
    • our moral rules evolved in small societies
      • our moral psychology hast evolved much, but our societies and technology have
      • we think we are only responsible for what we cause not for what we let happen
  • things that put us at risk
    • liberal democracy
      • short election cycles, unwillingness to make sacrifices or invest in the future
    • failure to aid
      • it is a choice to not cure poverty
      • the richest 500 people own
  • climate change is difficult problem for our psychology
  • use scientific understanding of our psychology to secure the values that are important to us
  • you could create eggs and sperm
    • you could do “iterated embroyo selection”
    • cycles from embryos to compress a thousand generations into a few years could raise IQ by 100 points
      • if you can do for IQ you can do for moral ability
  • many of us are on drugs already that affect our moral decisions
    • food! (judges and parole)
    • caffeine, anti-depressants, oxytocin (cooperation in-group, reduce with out-group)
    • testosterone (increases concern with social status)
    • beta-blockers that reduce unconscious racial bias
      • (we are all racist - good at doing in/out group determination)
      • Americans value American life at 2000 times non-American
  • brain stimulation (transcranial electrical stimulation) can modify the brain (and thus moral behaviour)
    • increase learning in any area
  • our moral sense is not pristine, every things affects it every day [rk: and at various time scales]
  • neural feedback training can change behaviour
  • he wants a secular moral education
    • develop moral skills
    • technology can accelerate the learning of those skills
  • 3 point increase in IQ would add to economy similar to introduction of the internet
  • how do we measure reasonable decisions?
    • wellbeing
    • freedom
    • justice (how to allocate scarce resources, how to impact freedom when actions affect others)
  • Ritalin can reduce violent recidivism by 30%
  • one way to think about changes is to imagine that the you have the change already and if you do nothing then you go back how things are now, but you have a (safe, effective, cheap) mechanism to maintain the change. Would you maintain the change?
    • you have the exact same reasons to enhance
  • Kant!
    • in practice it means always get people’s consent, not disregard their idea of a good life
  • the selection of a child isn’t the same moral problem as choosing to harm or modify the child after it’s birth
    • the selected child only exists because of selection
  • moral responsibility = foreseeability (your intelligence) * avoidability (your power)
  • blame = moral responsibility * harm
  • no moral distinction between
    • acts and omissions
  • evaluate options:
    • natural environment
    • social
    • psychological
    • biological (we are already doing it and we need to take responsibility)
  • we need to use science to understand our limitations
  • we need to fund the systematic study of human moral limitation
    • find ways of living with ourselves or changing ourselves