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Video Meet The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (Video) 37

Discussions about ethics and technology are perennial Slashdot staples. But if you want to frequent a site that is about ethics and technology and almost nothing else, with a strong science fiction bent to it, you might want to check out the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies ( website. Here to introduce us to IEET and tell us what it's about, we have IEET Managing Director Hank Pellissier in a remote video interview we made through Skype.

Robin 'Roblimo' Miller: Do you guys publish original material or is it all discussion?

Hank Pellissier: The material that we have on the site, I would say about 50% to 60% of it is original, people who write only for the site and then there is a lot of bloggers out there and we repost material that they have on their blog. The science fiction writer David Brin is one of our main contributors. So, he has got his own blog and I let it sit on his blog for a couple of days and then I repost it on our site. And we have a lot of academics, a lot of people, 250 I think, different contributors. But the bulk of stuff that goes on our site is probably from about 20 people.

Robin Miller: Okay. What is the objective of the IEET? What are you trying to do? What’s it about?

Hank Pellissier: I think we’re trying to use technology to give us a better future. I think we’re trying to use technology so that we can make the world wealthier, smarter and better. The notion of transhumanism is sort of better people; living longer is one goal, becoming more intelligent is another goal. I recently did a survey of 818 of our readers or transhumanists, just to see like what specifically their goals were. And actually the primary goal, number one was increased intelligence, number two goal was enhancing memory. And so those were the two main goals.

Robin Miller: And the third one you forget, right?

Hank Pellissier: There is a notion of becoming better morally and we actually just had a conference at NYU called, The Moral Brain. And that’s how to, sort of, neurologically work with our brains so that we become better people. It can be anything from meditation to smart drugs to may be bioengineering out the psychopathic brain, to all kinds of things.

Robin Miller: So, do you think many Slashdot users would have something to contribute?

Hank Pellissier: Yes. Actually that would be great. I am always looking for new writers, because I put up so much material, I have a habit of going through writers kind of quickly, like I post everything that they’ve ever written and then I have to move on to somebody else. So I am always looking for new writers. I probably add two new writers a week. So Slashdot readers, I would love to have some contributions from them. They can email me and send me their manuscripts.

Robin Miller: Would you describe this as being liberal, conservative, who knows, all over the map, your users, how would you describe them or can’t be described?

Hank Pellissier: That is an extremely interesting question because I just did a huge survey and most transhumanists, which is the bulk of our readership, most of them agree on almost everything, but when it comes to politics they don’t agree. There is two very specific camps, one is sort of the social democrat, which is kind of the leftist progressive and that’s basically the faction that IEET represents, social democrats. And then there is other faction, which we would call the anarcho-transhumanists, the anarcho-libertarian and that ranges between libertarian capitalists to sort of anarcho-feminists, people who want the abolition of the state.

So, we welcome anybody in that wide spectrum in there, that’s all fine. A lot of people in our readership think they want direct democracy, a lot of people are very cynical of the political system, other people will just sort of want the abolition of government, de-centralizing the world right now, fracturing into smaller states. You don’t have to adhere to any one particular political opinion to get involved in this. But it’s probably the most heated debate. That and religion, politics and religion of course.

Robin Miller: As always everywhere. And thinking of not politics so much, but what about technology, do you folks have any ambition to drive or get support for particular avenues of research?

Hank Pellissier: Well, yes, the majority of our readership is interested in life extension. Although we don’t talk about it obsessively, it makes up maybe 10% of our content it seems like. I am very involved in that personally. I am part of what’s called the International Longevity Alliance. And I write a lot about longevity.

When I did the survey, it seems like about 80% of our readership is interested in, I am going to call it, immortality, but it’s also more correctly known as radical life extension, meaning just living like 1000 years or an extremely long time, with another 20% not really wanting to live that long and then we have arguments about, wouldn’t living a really long time be boring or what are we going to do about over population. So that’s something we discuss a lot.

And there is a lot of disagreement. There is a little bit of disagreement about the singularity, although I would say most of our readership is singularitarian. And there is a lot of disagreement about artificial intelligence, is it going to be friendly or is it going to be unfriendly. So we have discussions on that as well.

Robin Miller: What about getting off this planet, are you interested in that like establishing outposts elsewhere [lest] the supernova asteroid strike and Bruce Willis can’t deflect it or whatever?

Hank Pellissier: I thought Bruce did a really good job on that. I think yes, I think we are interested in that. We have a lot of articles on space. We have articles on mining the asteroids. We had a very popular article written by one of our main writers, George Dvorsky, about building a Dyson sphere, which can harness all of the sun’s energy. There is people that are extremely interested in colonizing space and then there is others that aren’t.

I am not incredibly interested in colonizing outer space. I am kind of interested in colonizing the oceans. I find that kind of an interesting idea. These people that build these architectural plants for like giant floating lily pads that hold cities of 50,000, I find that kind of interesting, floating around on these huge boats. And so, I find that interesting. I am not sure living on another planet. I actually have an attraction to tropical rainforests. If you can find me a planet that looks like the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, I’d be happy to go there, but otherwise I don’t know. I am not a guy who wants to go to another planet that much.

Robin Miller: Well, couldn’t we find one that’s at a right distance from its sun and then create that ecology, the one that we want?

Hank Pellissier: That would be wonderful. I would love to do that. That would be really great.

Robin Miller: What percentage of your readers are big science fiction readers?

Hank Pellissier: I am going to say, well over 90% and possibly 100%. Yes, I would say almost everybody is a big science fiction reader.

Robin Miller: Okay.

Hank Pellissier: Yeah, I mean a lot of these ideas come out of science fiction and there is a lot of discussion that science fiction should be read more in school and it should be accepted more at a college level.

There is this notion of us being microchipped, so like say you have a microchip that’s embedded in you, so that you can use it for identification purposes. Your embedded microchip can be your driver’s license, your passport, your ATM card, your library card, it can have all of your health information on it. It can basically get rid of your wallet. It could also be your cash. There is that notion and there’s intense fear of that, of people not wanting to be chipped.

There is also the notion that we could all have a GPS implant, which I think is kind of interesting. It would eliminate crime in a way because we could just see who intersected with us when we were mugged. But it would also eliminate adultery because everybody would know where everybody else was, which leads into another topic which is just discussions about transparency, just the notion of knowing everything about everybody else.

Yeah, it’s kind of an expanded Wikileaks idea, knowing everything about the government, but also knowing everything about everybody else. And so, we have a lot of discussions about how much privacy do we want, how much transparency do we want. And, there is big disagreements on that, but I would say a lot of us are interested in 100% transparency.

Another issue that we’re actually doing in our next conference at Yale is the whole notion of the rights of animals. And should animals be, especially the animals with higher intelligence, should they be reclassified as persons, should they be kept from captivity and enslavement, is that a unethical thing to do to not only experiment on chimpanzees but even to have them in zoos.

And some of us also think about enhancing animals, which is kind of a fringe idea, but just that idea. It’s kind of a Rise of the Planet of the Apes idea. Every child grows up with their literature full of talking animals, that’s just what we do, is have stories about talking animals. But that’s something that some people take seriously.

They think about, well do we have a moral obligation to educate animals. And there are some researchers working on that now, like I think there is woman who has taken bonobos, which are sort of a pigmy chimpanzian and she has given them a domestic setting and they are learning how to set a table and clean a room and things like this. So, there is a little bit of talk about that as well.

Robin Miller: So, that sounds like turning a chimp into a servant?

Hank Pellissier: Yeah. A servant? Well, we are teaching gorillas and animals to learn symbols as well and to talk. We’re doing that as well. What do you think about this? We had a little debate on our site about, should we bring back the Neanderthals if we can? If we can figure out how to reconstruct their DNA, should we bring them back for research purposes or is that considered unethical?

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Meet The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (Video)

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Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.