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More Than Human? The Ethics of Biologically Enhancing Soldiers

If we can engineer a soldier who can resist torture, would it still be wrong to torture this person with the usual methods? Starvation and sleep deprivation won’t affect a super-soldier who doesn’t need to sleep or eat. Beatings and electric shocks won’t break someone who can’t feel pain or fear like we do. This isn’t a comic-book story, but plausible scenarios based on actual military projects today.

In the next generation, our warfighters may be able to eat grasscommunicate telepathicallyresist stressclimb walls like a lizard, and much more. Impossible? We only need to look at nature for proofs of concept. For instance, dolphins don’t sleep (or they’d drown); Alaskan sled-dogs can run for days without rest or food; bats navigate with echolocation; and goats will eat pretty much anything. Find out how they work, and maybe we can replicate that in humans.

As you might expect, there are serious moral and legal risks to consider on this path. Last week in the UK, The Royal Society released its report “ Neuroscience, Conflict and Security.” This timely report worried about risks posed by cognitive enhancements to military personnel, as well as whether new nonlethal tactics, such as directed energy weapons, could violate either the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions.

While an excellent start, the report doesn’t go far enough. The impact of neural and physical human enhancements is more far-reaching than that, such as to the question of torturing the enhanced. Other issues also pose real challenges to military policies and broader society.

Read more. [Image: US Marine Corps]

I want to eat grass. So convenient! —A.P.

And I would like to climb walls like a lizard. We all have our quirks.

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