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Brief background

Human enhancement is on the rise. ‘Enhancement’ indicates a multitude of ways, supported by a variety of technologies, in which human beings enhance their looks, abilities, features, or functions. It ranges from plastic surgery and silicone implants for (perceived) beauty purposes to bionic limbs and chip-enhanced cognition in cyborgs. The distinguishing feature of enhancement is that it aims to improve human functioning above ‘normal’ or ‘average’. Many technologies for enhancement can be and are also being used for medical or regenerative purposes, for example plastic surgery for burn victims or prostheses for lost limbs, but the purpose in these cases is to bring the people ‘back to normal’. Of course, there is a grey area in which health care meets enhancement – ‘getting well’ seamlessly moves into ‘getting better’. This grey area moves over time, depending for example on cultural views.
Besides enhancement, another interesting development is robotics and artificial intelligence. Machines are becoming more autonomous, software is becoming ‘smarter’, and robots are being developed that begin to look more and more like humans. One strand of research is developing realistic looking robots that mirror human looks;  another strand looks at distinguishing features that can make a robot be perceived as human, in particular facial expressions like smiling or raising eyebrows. If the ‘humanoid’ robot were to be equipped with artificial intelligence – and thus acquire more autonomy through emergent behaviour –the vision of an android might become a reality.
While the prevalence of new ‘emerging technologies’ resulting from the convergence of fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, cognitive science, robotics, and artificial intelligence will undoubtedly increase, it is impossible to predict how far and how fast these developments will go. One can imagine that in the long term, the world may well become populated by altogether different types of species than those we see around us today: non-enhanced and enhanced humans, cyborgs, robots, and androids among them, all of which will function, in different but perhaps also in similar ways, in day-to-day social life.


The vision of a future world populated by humans, cyborgs, robots, and androids raises many fundamental questions. One such question is what this development means for fundamental or constitutional rights, also known as human rights. Will cyborgs be considered human enough to still be bearers of ‘human’ rights? Can androids claim ‘human’ rights if they look and function in the same way in society as cyborgs? Another important issue is the relationship between non-enhanced and enhanced people: will there be a social divide? And can human beings keep robots under control as they become increasingly autonomous; in other words, will robots comply with Asimov’s three laws of robotics until the end of days, or will they, like HAL in 2001 – A Space Odyssey, revolt and try and control humans? These types of issues are illustrated by the following two scenarios which show different possible worlds in a relatively far-away future – probably around the time of David and Li-lian’s great grandchildren.


Scene I: London, 28 June 2079, from our correspondent

Under the circumstances, the mass demonstration of humanoids in Trafalgar Square yesterday took place quite peacefully. About 800,000 robots and androids had responded to a call from the Enhancement Society to demonstrate for the recognition of basic rights for their species. “Robots are the same as people / and want the same as humans”, a sign read. “We finally want recognition of our rights. We also have the right to life” said AnDy02593, a third-generation android. “My in-built on/off button is very humiliating, I feel restricted in my freedom to develop myself”.
The exuberant mood and atmosphere of alliance were subdued by a larger opposing demonstration of people headed by the Call for Human Dignity. The spokesman of the CHD, Frank Kufuyama, expressed many members’ feelings during his speech: “Humanoids are different to people. They are very useful to humanity and the world, but that does not mean that they can just have all kinds of rights. Imagine that androids had the passive right to vote and could take over running the country. Before you know it they would join United Europe with the Asian Union and slowly phase us out. It is absolutely vital that the humanoids remain subordinate to us for the good of humanity.”
Although the CHD has a strong basis, it is expected that the increasing social cry for rights from the humanoids will be heard by the government. Minister of Justice Warrik (grandclone of the pioneering former professor of cybernetics) is purportedly preparing a legal proposal to incorporate the rights of humanoids into the Constitution.

Scene II:

The demonstration of orthodox humans at Trafalgar Square yesterday went calmly under the circumstances. Around 20,000 people, who for diverse reasons refuse to follow the normal procedures of enhancement, complied with the Human League’s call to demonstrate against their subordinate social position. “Discrimination against normal people must end,” says Andy, a 36-year old paleoman from Manchester. “We have the right to a job but nobody will give us work. The majority of us are healthy but we have to pay three times the amount of the contributions that genetically enhanced people pay. There are hardly any updated teaching materials for our children to learn from because nowadays everything goes to enhanced-brain education.”
Despite the atmosphere of solidarity, the mood was subdued. The turnout was disappointing because many Human League supporters could not afford to travel to London and the demonstrators were practically ignored by the neopeople rushing by. The police fined a couple of teenage cyborgs for public abuse when they lingered during the demonstration and who, imitating a paleo-sense of humour, shouted “Hey, Neanderthaler!” to the demon¬strators.
There was however, a ray of hope for the paleopeople in the speech of Minister of Justice Warrik (grandclone of the pioneer¬ing former professor of cybernetics). He emphasised that the socio-ethic position of minority groups must be respected and that paleopeople still also have a useful role to fulfil in society. He did not want to adopt the HL’s ten-point plan because he considered positive discrimination in government functions to be going too far, and the right to paleo-medical facilities and the stimulation of non-brain-interactive cultural programmes to be too expensive. However, he did agree to look into promoting jobs for paleopeople and to pleading for government financing of teaching materials for paleochildren.


The on-going development of human enhancement and robotics raise at least two major, inter-related, normative issues. First, supposing that robots, and perhaps artificial intelligence as embedded in ‘intelligence carriers’ (like an Ambient Intelligence infrastructure), will indeed become more autonomous in future, and that they will perform important, possibly vital, functions in society, will they reach a point where it becomes useful or necessary to grant them fundamental (‘human’) rights? It seems an odd question from today’s perspective, but cannot be dismissed right away. In parallel to sophisticated robotics, cyborgs will also enter the picture: human beings with increasing amounts of technology built-in or connected to the person. Since cyborgs evolve from the human species, in gradual steps, they will most likely be considered humans by future generations: as soon as forms of enhancement are adopted by larger numbers of people after the pioneers, enhanced humans are simply the new appearance of the human species. As a result, cyborgs will be the inheritors of human rights. Now suppose that robots and artificially-intelligent systems perform similar functions as cyborgs do, and perhaps even become androids who are in looks and functions equivalent to cyborgs, then should they not have the same catalogue of rights? This issue will require substantial debate, in society and legal academia. Fortunately, there is plenty of time to have this debate.

A second major issue is whether a social divide will develop between enhanced and non-enhanced humans. This seems a more urgent question: if we do not want to end up in the second scenario, with ‘paleopeople’ being treated in practice as Untermenschen by the new types of Uebermensch, the on-going development of human enhancement will have to be controlled somehow. Human rights can play an important part in this: they lay down the basic rules for treating people. At first sight, the right to non-discrimination will provide substantial guidance: non-enhanced people should not be treated unequally. However, what is ‘unequal’, given that enhanced humans are different from non-enhanced humans? For example, if an employer can choose between a ‘paleoman’ with an IQ of 130 and a cyborg with an IQ of 260, does he discriminate if he chooses the cyborg? This is just one example of questions concerning specific human rights in relation to human enhancement that merit further study.

Underlying both issues is perhaps the most fundamental question: as enhancement and robotics become sophisticated and ingrained in society, should we adapt human rights to accommodate the new species on the scene, or should we use human rights to steer the development of these new species? This is not an either/or question: both are probably necessary, for different types of issues, but the question then becomes: when, why, and how do we adapt human rights to meet new technological developments, and when, why, and how do we adapt technological developments to meet human rights? This co-evolution of technologies, society, and norms is one the most fascinating, and most complex, aspects of emerging technologies.

The area of new technologies and human rights and fundamental values has been explored by the FIDIS NoE in D12.2: ‘Study on Emerging AmI Technologies’. A more fundamental discussion of the importance of human rights and fundamental values in a technology-pervasive world can be found in D7.4: ‘Implications of Profiling Practices on Democracy’. The question whether new entities can or should be granted legal status and legal rights is the topic of D17.2: ‘Abstract Persons and the Law’. The co-evolution of technology, society, and norms – applied to a different technology, namely Ambient Intelligence – is visible in the exploratory study D7.9: ‘A Vision of Ambient Law’. Robotics has not been part of FIDIS research to date, but cyborgs feature in D12.6: ‘A Study on Human ICT Implants’.