ICRA 2005, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation

Workshop on Robo-Ethics

Barcelona, April 18th, 2005

home >>> J.M.Galvan

Techno-ethical and anthropological aspects of the Synergy of Natural and Artificial Hardware

J.M. Galvan, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, Italy

Many instances in world culture are pushing towards the rediscovery of the ethical dimension of technology. It is of paramount importance now to foster a debate, similar to what is being done in the area of bioethics, aimed at the formulation of a series of common principles that would serve as a basis for what could be called Technoethics.

TE can be defined as the sum total of ideas that bring into evidence a system of ethical reference that justifies the profound dimension of technology as a central element in the attainment of a "finalized" perfection of man. This definition presupposes a positive view of technology as anthropologically relevant, which notwithstanding it being one of the first truths known to mankind, has been strongly questioned in many sectors of culture in these last decades.

One of the central points in this debate is based on the imminent integration of robotic elements in the human organism. This has highlighted a dated ethical and anthropological dilemma that has been dealt with in a practical and exclusive manner in science fiction literature: the cyborg.

The techno-ethical question to pose is: in what manner is the cyborg really an element of positive human augmentation? The answer to this question presupposes other questions: what is a cyborg? and what is “human augmentation”? A radical redefinition of terms is urgently required: in ethical sciences precise terminology is vital.

The distinction that Descartes makes between res cogitans and res extensa has determined a dichotomy between the human and mechanical that is still prevalent in the terminology of certain academic environments and thus breeds ambiguous terminology and expressions that must be superseded in order to adequately understand the ethical nuances of this field. Some examples are proposed and some suggestions will be given based on a more complete and adequate analysis of the ontological sense of the terms.

An initial point to make is that cyborgs and robots are ontologically different realities. They must not be approached in the same manner as they are radically different in their essence. The cyborg is a human being and thus has personal dignity. Therefore ethical principles which are applied to the human person are applied in the same manner to cyborgs. For example: that the human person will always be the final end to himself and has to be considered for himself only; the non manipulativeness of the human being ; and lastly that the cyborg as a human persona is an united totality of time and space. Thus, the unity in time is manifest as memory and history; and spatial aspects as relational and psychological unity.

That which is formalized by nature is natural and that which is formalized by human freedom is artificial (Arte Factum). The human person is by nature artificial, that is, that he or she is fully fulfilled based on his or her personal freedom.

One can affirm that the organic system of the human person has a total plasticity in that free will and choice can mold and change the biological structure of the human person. One can modify the initial biological structure after choosing new paths and challenges and undertaking them until the new choices become an integral component of the “persona”.

In conclusion the biological nature of man enables him to have “plasticity”. Technology can be used to conserve, repair and improve this biological nature. What man does with this “plasticity” depends on the free will of humankind, therefore there is an ethical dimension to these acts that has to presuppose the respect and dignity of the human person. To avoid misunderstandings, I suggest that we do not speak of cyborgs as it is a limiting term, but instead speak of a technologically augmented human person that we can define as Homo cybersapiens.