Ethical evolution of hybrid humanity


Rashid A Mughal

OUR essential hybridity with other animal, plant and machine life is now in the emergent stages of a giant leap towards new forms of power which we cannot envision. New applications of biotech, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) mean that our hybrid humanity is about to expand exponentially in a way that is already changing what it means to be human. Today’s technologists are focused hard on simplifying human-machine interfaces – different types of “dashboards” which use our five human senses and recognize human gestures so that our humanity interacts seamlessly with AI of various kinds. These interfaces will increasingly be embedded in our bodies and minds as new levels of interactivity with technology, which will inevitably change the experience of being human and the power of humanity, continue to emerge.
The principle of humanity as currently expressed is a classic example of “speciesism” in ethics. It cares only about one species – our own. We may claim that the principle of humanity is a niche ethic for calamitous human situations which rightly trumps wider ethical considerations in extremis, but this is neither true nor realistic. It is not true because the principle of humanity already takes account of the natural environment in the laws of war and the norms of disaster response and so recognizes the importance of non-human life in its own right and as means to human life. Nor is it realistic at a time when our biggest existential challenge as a specie arises from our relationship with the non-human world around us.
Humanity in this sense is human behavior that cares for other humans because of a profound and universally held conviction that life is better than death, and that to live well means being treated humanely in relationships of mutual respect. This commitment is a driving principle in the rules of behavior in the Geneva Conventions and in the Disaster Laws recommended by the Movement to ensure better disaster prevention, preparedness and response around the world. Humanity is used to describe a certain moral value that we can see operating across humankind as kindness and compassion for one another. We can, therefore, understand this meaning as the kindness of humans. This humanity is our first Fundamental Principle and primary purpose in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and has been summarized as follows since 1965:“To prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found (and) to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being.”
Over the last 200 years, a third sense of humanity has increasingly referred to a single global identity across all human societies. This is not a simple biological identity but the idea that as a conflicted species we can and must build a single global political identity in which every human has a stake. This global identity is a Meta identity which transcends smaller identities shaped by culture, nation, class, political opinion and religion. The purpose of this single political humanity is to build a human “we” in which can share a common species consciousness as one group sharing a single planetary “home” and so work together on common problems and common opportunities that face the whole of humanity.
This political sense of being a single global group is experiencing push-back today as a broad-based politics of ethnic and economic nationalism expresses skepticism about globalism of all kinds. This political turn sees many people asking national politicians to think “more about us here” and “less about them over there”. But our movement continues to argue that it is important to imagine and build a global sense of humanity because our common human problems are intense and interdependent, and can only be solved internationally not just nationally. This time-space compression and its resulting context collapse which began with radio and television is an ever-increasing feature of being human. Some of our grandchildren will probably be talking and listening simultaneously in a hundred different places at once in embodied replicas as holograms or humanoid drones. They will probably be fluent in all languages, move through space much faster than us and live forever on earth and in space because of biological and AI enhancements. Our machines will develop new levels of autonomy which, although created by humans, are inevitably adapted by machine learning into new forms of non-human and non-animal life.
There are five truly existential problems that we all share as members of the human species, and always have done. Threats from each one can be significantly reduced if we work together to solve them in the spirit of Dumas’ Three Musketeers: “all for one and one for all”. This is what we try to do at the International Conferences. Our perennial five problems are:(i) The problem of our violence as a species as it plays out terribly in war and violent crime,(ii) our struggle for fairness and our desire to reduce inequalities between us,(iii) our predators and their threat to our health which now take mainly microscopic form as infectious microbes, or chronic and auto immune diseases in which we attack ourselves,(iv) our relationship with the non-human environment and its impact on human survival,(v) the promethean risk of our creativity and how our technological inventions help and harm as they change the world around us and redefine humanity itself in new hybrid forms.
These five deep species problems need to be raised in various forms at different world forums to identify, analyze and find solutions to the core issues. They will require a powerful response by all humanity, with an ethic of humanity, to ensure the survival of humanity. The principle of humanity must, therefore, keep pace with the ethical evolution of humanity (the species) and needs to expand its purpose and behaviour towards non-human life. This currently includes all animal and vegetative life. But, in future, it is increasingly also likely to include non-human machines like robots and AI which may develop their own levels of consciousness, feelings and rights as they increasingly merge with humanity – the species and its ethics – in hybrid forms. Here time is pressing. We may have little time to work out what it means to apply humane behaviour within non-human machines and towards non-human machines. This means agreeing how non-human machines and new models of human-machine interactions can behave with humanity, especially as new weapons systems. It will also mean thinking about how we should show humanity to increasingly machine-like humans and human-like machines.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.