David Edmonds, a Distinguished Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a philosopher, is the editor of Future Morality (OUP, Dec.), a new anthology of 24 articles by nearly 30 leading thinkers on philosophy and ethics that examines the moral issues expected to occur in the near future. The author of Would You Kill The Fat Man (Princeton, 2013), Edmonds urges readers to consider what he calls imminent scientific advances, such as using artificial intelligence (AI) to remove bias from medical diagnoses and improve decision-making, allowing drugs to improve intimate relationships, and more.
What are some of the topics of ethics in the book?
We needed to cover the future of the body in various ways. For example, whether drugs can keep people in love. I wanted to cover the future of the internet. AI was such a big topic—AI is revolutionizing medicine, affecting the justice process as well as criminology. The final chapter by philosopher Anders Sandberg is about post humans and what is the future of the human species. It’s a topic that most people haven’t thought about. Sandberg comes from The Future of Humanity Institute—they deal with whether the brain and the mind can be downloaded into a laptop and whether humans are constrained by our biological destiny.
What chapter do you think is particularly relevant to present morality?
One that isn’t controversial but covers a controversial subject: gender. What is the future of gender? Gender is much more fluid now. What does it mean to be a woman or a man? There is a chapter by philosopher Brian Earp about the future of gender. Although it is about the future, I really think it has relevance for today.
Can you talk a little about whether religious beliefs factor into the moral thinking on these subjects?
Very few if any of the philosophers in the book defer to theology or any kind of religious reading for how we should behave. Moral philosophy, if not entirely secular, is essentially a secular discipline.
What do you hope readers will take way from your book?
I want them to start thinking about problems that are just around the corner. We have become used to the pace of technological advance. The problem is that it often takes humans a long time for their intuitions to catch up to the technology. A good example of that is IVF [In Vitro-Fertilization], which, when it first came in, lots of people were aghast. Now it has helped millions of people become parents. I want readers to start thinking about the way the world is radically changing now, so that we know what we want to stop and what we want to permit.