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Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb

EctogenesisEctogenesis, as it applies to persons, is the creation and/or continuation of human life outside the human uterus. It can refer to the complete artificial creation of human life (as in Brave New World), or the term can be applied to all technological developments that would result in a shortening of the time required for the fetus to attain viability following implantation in the womb.


Cloning and the New Age

Cloned HumansDolly the sheep brought the realities of cloning into the mainstream society. Today the effects of cloning on a society are at the center of many ethical debates. Yet what is cloning?


Cloning is the process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. It is the procedure in which the nucleus which contains the DNA is removed from a human egg and replace with the nucleus (DNA) from the donor's somatic (body) cell. An electric charge stimulates the new human embryo, and the cloning process is complete. Thus, it creates an exact duplicate copy of the donor.

With this in mind, two terms have been given to human cloning even though there is really only one type.The term reproductive cloning has been used to describe when a human clone is implanted and delivered as a full term pregnancy. This type of cloning was used to create Dolly the sheep. Research, experimental or therapeutic cloning have been the terms used for the other "type". In this, the procedure is identical to the above except that this new cloned human is experimented upon in his or her first few weeks of life and then killed. Essentially, the clone is created to destroy the embryo and harvest its stem cells for research.

Why is Cloning a problem?

From a biblical worldview, the first reality is that God is the creator of life. Therefore, it is God's job to create life, not man. Thus when we take the act of creating life away from God, it is not only dehumanizing for the individual, but it threatens human dignity as a society. Beyond that, cloning gives individuals the opportunity to create life and then treat it any way deemed acceptable. Cloning does not value each human being as unique and individual.

According to Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Cloning participates in the basic evil of moving human procreation out of the setting of committed marital intimacy and into the laboratory. Human procreation should not take place in the laboratory because it is inherently dehumanizing to bring a new human being into the world through means which replace the marital act. Each of us has a right to be brought into the world as the fruit and expression of marital love, rather than as the product of technical domination and manufacturing protocols. Procreation is not meant to be replaced by production. There is a dignity both to the process of procreation as established by God through sexual self-giving, and the dignity of the life itself which is engendered by that process. Cloning threatens human dignity on both of those levels.Cloning also represents a sort of genetic engineering. Instead of choosing just a few of the features you’d like your offspring to have, like greater height or greater intelligence, cloning could allow you to choose all of the features, so it represents an extremely serious form of domination and manipulation by parents over their own children. It represents a type of parental power that parents are not intended to have. Ultimately, cloning is a type of human breeding, a despotic attempt by some individuals to dominate and pre-determine the make-up of others. With cloning you also distort the relationships between individuals and generations. If a woman were to clone herself, using her own egg, her own somatic cell, and her own womb, she wouldn’t need to have a man involved at all.Oddly, she would end up giving birth to her own identical twin—a twin sister who would also be her daughter.

In reference to Human Therapeutic Cloning Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk notes:

If human reproductive cloning—the bringing to birth of a new child who is an identical twin to somebody else—is wrong, then therapeutic cloning is worse. Therapeutic cloning is the creation of that same identical twin for the premeditated purpose of ending her life in order to harvest her tissues. In sum, there is a grave evil involved in therapeutic cloning because life is created for the explicit purpose of destroying it. With a cloned birth, at least we would end up with a baby that is alive. Human therapeutic cloning, the artificial creation of a human life for the sole purpose of her exploitation and destruction will always be gravely unethical, even if the desired end is a very good one, namely the curing of diseases. Therapeutic cloning sanctions the direct and explicit exploitation of one human being by another, in this case, the exploitation of the weak by the powerful.The danger of therapeutic cloning lies in the intentional creation of a subclass of human beings, made up of those still in their embryonic or fetal stages, who can be freely exploited and discriminated against by those fortunate enough to have already passed beyond those early embryonic stages.Therapeutic cloning raises further serious slippery-slope concerns. The temptation to make embryos that can be exploited for their stem cells offers the further temptation to grow those cloned embryos within a uterus to the point of a fetus. Such a fetus can then be aborted and conveniently harvested for needed organs, avoiding the trouble of having to start from scratch with undifferentiated stem cells.

(Source: Family Research Council: Stem Cell Research, Cloning & Embryos )

Bina48: Person or Machine?

BINA48 came to life in the Plano, Texas laboratory of Roboticist, David Hanson. She was designed and programmed to the appearance and personality of Rothblatt’s spouse, Bina Aspen, who spent greater than one hundred hours teaching the android to be her doppelgänger.                   Wikipedia

Is she a machine with a partially downloaded human consciousness or a very young undeveloped "person"?

CLICK HERE to hear her discuss her view of God and her soul.

BINA ASPEN and her Doppelganger BINA48
            The HUMAN      The MACHINE
       
   

Aging and the End of Life Q&A

Assisted suicide and euthanasia is a confusing subject. However, this subject will greatly affect future generations as we continue the slide down the slippery slope toward declaring several classes of humanbeings ... non-persons in the eyes of the law. Please carefully consider all factors before making a judgment. The following are a list of questions that many have asked on this subject and answers that address these provocative questions.

. . . Pre-Born Human Children at an Embryonic Stage

". . . the (human) embryo is not nothing"

Judy Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (current editor of the benchmark feminist text, Our Bodies, Ourselves)

"To say that these embryos are 'cellular' life but not human life is to engage in a game of semantics. Every one of us started out as embryos."

Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family

Therapeutic Cloning is a term that masks a horrible truth . . . someone must die in order that others may potentialy benefit.

Human experimentation without human consent was outlawed at the Nazi Nuremburg trials of 1949. The biotech community at Emory and University of Georgia routinely kill human embryos as they seek to advance medical science through the cloning of young children.

A Personhood Amendment would be the first step in establishing ethical paramenters that protect human dignity in the 21st century.

Will Biological Computers Enable Artificially Intelligent Machines to Become Persons?

by Anthony Tongen, PhD

Have you ever participated in an intelligent conversation about "artificial intelligence"? Artificial intelligence (AI) is a phrase that is often heard, especially in the context of recent movies, but rarely understood. In general, AI refers to the automation of intelligent behavior via mechanisms such as computers. In this article, I will consider some advantages of biological computers, discuss current views of AI, and conclude with a discussion of personhood.
 
Biological Computers
 
Biological computers consist of both biological and mechanical material. Two main advantages of biological computing are small size and rapid speed. In 2001, a group of Israeli scientists created a prototype biological computer--with enzymes as the "hardware" and DNA as the "software"--that may someday patrol a human body for the detection and/or treatment of disease. This computer is able to run approximately one billion operations per second with 99.8% accuracy. Astonishingly, one billion of these biological computers could fit inside a drop of water!


 
In 1999, a group of scientists from Emory University and Georgia Tech made a calculator (called the "leech-ulator") with neurons taken from leeches. In normal silicon computers, connections are made between the computer's chips only when the programmer directs the connections to occur. However, in a biological computer the neurons are able to connect on their own and are often said to be "thinking" by making connections with their neighbors, possibly increasing computational power. Since the processing power of the silicon chip is close to being maximized, the next generation of computer technology may rely on the use of biological computing. A billion operations per second is impressive indeed, but when the prospect of massive neural connectivity is considered, the speed is almost unfathomable.
 
The "leech-ulator" demonstrates that the ability of neurons to make local connections might be an advantage on which artificial intelligence could capitalize. Suppose scientists are able to map the neural and chemical processes in the brain completely; could a biological computer be made based on this map? The answer is a resounding yes, because the technology to produce a computer duplicating a map (once it is provided) is already available. Such capabilities raise ethical questions. Is an artificially "intelligent" computer a person? How do we define a person? Are human beings more than the neural signals and chemical reactions in their brains?
 
Artificial Intelligence
 
Proponents of AI may support one of two views: strong AI and weak AI. Proponents of strong AI believe that machines can duplicate human intelligence in its entirety, including a sense of consciousness. Proponents of weak AI, by contrast, believe that machines can merely simulate intelligence or act as if they possess intelligence. The prevalent attitude among most AI researchers is to accept the weak AI hypothesis and simply to ignore the strong AI hypothesis. As long as the computer program works, whether it is called a simulation of intelligence or real intelligence is regarded as unimportant.2
 
Many people participate daily in activities involving weak AI, with the most popular enterprise being "gaming." Since the computer "Deep Blue" successfully defeated chess great Garry Kasparov in 1997, we are no longer able to say that a human being is the world chess champion. However, it is important to note that Deep Blue does not mimic the way a human being would play chess, but instead calculates outcomes based on all possible moves and then selects the move with the highest probability of winning. Weak AI also contributes significantly to applications such as speech recognition, machine translation, and search engines.
 
Traditionally, strong AI has been connected to determinism. Determinism claims that all behavior is the result of preceding events. The idea that machines can duplicate humans implies that humans are deterministic creatures who make decisions based on some predetermined brain "program." One of the challenges of strict determinism to the Christian worldview may be framed as follows: If a person is just following his or her "program," then do notions of responsibility, sin, and redemption even make sense? For instance, if a computer is programmed to run the Windows operating system (OS), the computer is doing what it was created to do--even though some people might consider running Windows a sin. In a strict deterministic worldview, the concept of right and wrong quickly becomes very hazy.
 
Proponents of strong AI are not necessarily strictly deterministic, however. In fact, biological computers may make the most dramatic impact on AI in connection with silicon computer chips. If a neural network can be trained to imitate thought, then scientists could connect this "thinking" neural net to a computer chip, resulting in a non-deterministic component of a machine.
 
Personhood
 
With the development of strong AI, personhood has increasingly come under attack. Definitions of personhood are loaded with terms that are unique to the human race, but advances in strong AI are challenging these definitions.
 
The secular definition of personhood has an assumption of naturalism embedded within. A logical implication of naturalism is that every aspect of a human may be reduced to a material basis. While this view of personhood may not seem to be challenged by AI, "intelligence" is an assumption of strong AI that has major ramifications for the naturalistic concept of personhood. Defining intelligence by some barometer of the average mind risks the implication that many in our culture are not intelligent or are without minds. Even without presuming the existence of God, such an assumption about intelligence demeans an entire segment of humanity.
 
Central to a Christian concept of personhood is the image of God. A strong AI perspective poses challenges to three common views of how human beings bear the image of God--the functional, the relational, and the substantive. The functional perspective concentrates on what we as human beings do. This view comes under attack as we consider our response to whether or not we are deterministic creatures. Did God create us in such a way that we follow a brain "program," or is there an aspect of free will in our function?
 
The relational view of the image of God focuses more on our ability to have relationships with others and with God. In his book The Frontiers of Science and Faith, John Jefferson Davis chooses to focus on the security of the relational view in the face of strong AI.3 Davis's point is that instead of seeing strong AI as an attack on the unique creation that we are in Christ, we should regard our ability to have a relationship with God as the element that will ultimately set humans apart from "intelligent" machines.
 
The substantive view focuses on the image of God as manifested by certain qualities or characteristics within the make-up of the human being--i.e. on what a person is.4 The most common aspect referred to in this view is reason. The substantive view of the image of God is the view that comes under the greatest attack when confronted by the assumptions of strong AI. However, through studying our uniqueness as creations of God, the substantive view is also the one that is most strengthened. Millard Erickson says that this view should prompt us to focus on the duplication of the attributes of God in our own lives.5 It is enlightening to study, one by one, all of the attributes of God and to reflect on two things: 1) how amazing it is that God chose both to reveal those attributes to us and to allow us to possess portions of them, and 2) how difficult it would be for us to create a computer that duplicates these attributes.
 
At the same time, AI may prove in the end to be more versatile than we anticipate. Accordingly, we might be wise to give more careful consideration to what some already maintain is a more accurate biblical understanding of the image of God--i.e., one that sees the image as attaching uniquely to human beings regardless of their capacities.6
 
Conclusion
 
To answer the question that was posed in the title of this article, I do not believe that biological computers will enable artificially intelligent machines to become persons. While AI may have both positive and negative consequences, it is limited in its capacity to duplicate human beings because there is far more to reproducing a person than simulating his or her neurological processes. I would invite Christians to keep abreast of developments in AI, but also to be encouraged by their uniqueness as creations in the image of God! 
 

1 Thanks to Mary Adam, Greg Chalfant, Gene Chase, Scott Lacey and Doug VanderGriend for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
2 Russell, Stuart and Norvig, Peter. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 2002.
3 Davis, John Jefferson. The Frontiers of Science and Faith. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2002.
4 Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998.
5 Ibid.
6 For example, see John F. Kilner, "Biotech and Human Dignity," CD available from CBHD, 2003

The Advent of the Artificial Womb: A Prospect to Be Welcomed? (Biblical Worldview)

A recent report in the journal Nature1 speculated about whether or not artificial wombs are on the scientific horizon and what ethical issues they might raise. Experiments that are aimed at helping premature neonates survive and IVF embryos to implant more successfully are fostering predictions that the artificial womb may one day move from science fiction to reality. However, the technological hurdles seem insurmountable at this point, and many of the scientists involved in the above research reportedly have no interest in taking the next steps toward developing artificial wombs.


Such steps have already been taken with animals, however, as a Japanese team has attempted to gestate a goat in an artificial womb. When the animal kept disconnecting the catheters that provided necessary nutrients, the scientists paralyzed the animal with a muscle relaxant. Unfortunately, the goat never developed the muscle tone necessary to survive and upon birth could not stand. The baby goat died a few days later.

Experts in this field suggest that they could not guarantee that a human fetus could ever develop in an artificial womb without risk of serious physical harm. Even if the formidable technological obstacles could be overcome, should we move in the direction of developing artificial wombs? Surely this is an example of something that should not be done even if it can. If our feminist colleagues are right about pregnancy being fundamentally a relationship, then there is something important that happens in utero between mother and unborn child. Far from the idea that the womb is a neutral place where the unborn child is simply housed until birth, studies in prenatal psychology suggest that what occurs in the womb has a formative influence on who the child becomes. What makes pregnancy special is the bonding that occurs between mother and unborn child. This is why adoption is so difficult for many birth mothers with unwanted pregnancies and why surrogates frequently want to keep the child they are carrying.

What kinds of harms might come to a child if, in the first nine months of his or her life, there was no bonding, no relationship, and no prospect of connection between mother and child? Though it may be that such children would not be physically harmed, nurturing them in an artificial womb is far from ideal and is not something we should encourage. Children in the womb are owed the best chance at a good start in life, consistent with their dignity as persons made in God's image. 


1 Knight, J. "An out of body experience." Nature 2002; 419:106.

Artificial Intelligence: making intelligent machines

The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was coined by John McCarthy in 1956 as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines." After 50 years of AI programming, researchers are creating systems that can understand speech, imitate human thought, beat the smartest test taker, and even create machines that can watch children for their parents. While many of these discoveries seem almost unreal, they are a part of the culture in which we live today. From creating a chip to implant into a person that would enable them to speak and understand a foreign language to creating a robot that could fight in times of war, the developments of AI are limitless. The question remains though with all of these developments what should be the limitations?


If we as a society possess the ability to create a machine that can think, talk, walk, and even respond to stimuli like human beings, then does that mean that they are equally human, or even a person? The other side to this debate is the reality that through technology a superior race of human beings could exist. No longer would we watch the Olympic games and see skilled athletes, instead we would see athletes that had been programmed to run faster, breathe longer, and play harder. The prize that came to the athlete that trained the hardest would now go to the athlete who had been given the newest technological advancements. The question remains in search for technological advancements are we risking loosing our value as humans, better yet persons? Science will give society the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a person, yet the question is what will our response be?

Artificial Intelligence: What are the Transhumanists saying?

Implantable brain chips: ethical and policy issues By Ellen M. McGee, Ph.D. Director, The Long Island Center for Ethics Long Island University

“The future may include the reality of science fiction's "cyborgs," persons who have developed some intimate and occasionally necessary relationship with a machine. It is likely that computer chips implanted in our brains and acting as sensors or actuators may soon not only assist the blind and those with failing memory, but even bestow fluency in a new language, enable "recognition" of previously unmet individuals and provide instantaneous access to encyclopedic databases.

 

Developments in nanotechnology, bioengineering, computers and neuroscience are converging to facilitate these amazing possibilities. Research on cochlear hearing and retinal vision has furthered the development of interfaces between neural tissues and microcomputers. The cochlear implant, which directly stimulates the auditory nerve, enables totally deaf people to hear sound. An artificial vision system, the "Dobelle Eye," uses a tiny television camera and ultrasonic distance sensors mounted on eyeglasses and connected to a miniature computer worn on a belt. This invention enables the blind to navigate independently, "read" letters, "watch" television, use a computer and access the Internet. 1 These "visual" activities are achieved by triggering pulses from the microcomputer to an array of platinum electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain's visual cortex. In March 1998, a "locked in" victim of a brain-stem stroke became the first recipient of a brain-to-computer interface, enabling him to communicate on a computer by thinking about moving the cursor.”

How long Before Super-Intelligence? By: Nick Bostrom, Oxfrord Future of Humanity Institute, Faculty of Philosophy & James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford

 

“Once artificial intelligence reaches human level, there will be a positive feedback loop that will give the development a further boost. AIs would help constructing better AIs, which in turn would help building better AIs, and so forth.

Even if no further software development took place and the AIs did not accumulate new skills through self-learning, the AIs would still get smarter if processor speed continued to increase. If after 18 months the hardware were upgraded to double the speed, we would have an AI that could think twice as fast as its original implementation. After a few more doublings this would directly lead to what has been called "weak superintelligence", i.e. an intellect that has about the same abilities as a human brain but is much faster.” Source: 

Artificial Intelligence: what are the Scientists and Secularists saying?

Brain Chips: Connecting the mind and machines By Michael Bay (Monday, June 5, 2006)

 

“A chip implanted in your head that allows you to store and recall information, of have a direct connection to machines, including computers and the Internet. Kennedy says the implications of such technology are very serious. ‘You are going to have individuals who have super-power of memories, calculation abilities and communication abilities and be far superior than the rest of us.’” Philip Kennedy, CEO and chief scientist of Neural Signals.

 Biotechonology, Human Enhancement, and the Ends of Medicine By Edmund D. Pellegrino

Some physicians have already crossed the divide between treatment and enhancement, between medically indicated use and patient-desired abuse. There is already a need for physicians to reflect on the ethical implications of their involvement in the uses of biotechnology. This reflection centers on these loci: (1) The use of biotechnological advancements in the treatment of disease; (2) its use to satisfy the desires of patients and non-patients for enhancement of some bodily or mental trait, or some state of affairs they wish to perfect; and (3) more distantly, in the use of biotechnology to redesign human nature and thus to enhance the species in the future.

Artificial Intelligence: Biblical worldview

Will Biological Computers Enable Artificially Intelligent Machines to Become Persons? Anthony Tongen, Ph.D. is, Visiting Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of Arizona

Central to a Christian concept of personhood is the image of God. A strong AI perspective poses challenges to three common views of how human beings bear the image of God--the functional, the relational, and the substantive. The functional perspective concentrates on what we as human beings do. This view comes under attack as we consider our response to whether or not we are deterministic creatures. Did God create us in such a way that we follow a brain "program," or is there an aspect of free will in our function?The relational view of the image of God focuses more on our ability to have relationships with others and with God. In his book The Frontiers of Science and Faith, John Jefferson Davis chooses to focus on the security of the relational view in the face of strong AI. Davis's point is that instead of seeing strong AI as an attack on the unique creation that we are in Christ, we should regard our ability to have a relationship with God as the element that will ultimately set humans apart from "intelligent" machines.

Remaking Humans: The New Utopians Versus a Truly Human Future By C. Ben Mitchell and John F. Kilner

Again, the idea of improving society through technology is not new... What is new, however, is how the transhumanists intend to use technology. They intend to craft their technopia by merging the human with the machine. Since, as they argue, computer speed and computational power will advance a million fold between now and the year 2050 A.D., artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. The only way humans can survive is by merging with machines, according to the transhumanistss.Robots and computers will of course never become human. Why not? Because being "one of us" transcends functional biology. Human beings are psychosomatic soulish unities made in the image of God. The image of God is fully located neither in our brain nor our DNA. We, and all who are "one of us," are unique combinations of body, soul, and mind. We might quibble theologically about how best to describe the components of our humanity, but most Christians agree that we are more than the sum of our biological and functional parts.The technopians, however, do not share our view of what it means to be "one of us." Even though computers and robots may never become "one of us," some will doubtless attribute to them human characteristics and--it is not inconceivable to imagine--human rights, including a right not to be harmed. One day it may be illegal to unplug a computer and so end its "life" at the same time that it is an ethical duty to unplug a human being whose biology has ceased to function efficiently.

Human-Animal Hybrids: Blasphemy or Science?

Sculpture by Patricia Piccinini entitled The Young FamilyChimeras are transgenic organisms that contain two or more different populations from genetically distinct cells that originated in different zygotes. Chimeras can involve the mixing of species from a human and a rat to a chicken and an elephant. According to Nancy L. Jones, fellow at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, transgenic mice containing human genes have existed for over twenty years. While chimeras have the potential of medical therapy, the process raises questions about issues such as: creation of new life forms and crossing species boundaries, the long-term effects on human health and the environment; the blending of plant, nonhuman animal and human DNA, the unintended personal, social, and cultural consequences.


Generally, transgenic combinations of DNA can be broken down into three categories:

1. plant-animal-human combinations

2. animal-animal combinations

3. animal-human combinations

The process of creating a transgene includes isolating the gene of interest from the tens of thousands of other genes in the genome of a gene-donor species. Once that gene is isolated, it is usually altered so it can function effectively in a host organism. That gene is then combined with other genes to prepare it to be introduced into another organism, at which point it’s known as a transgene.

Could Animal-Human Chimeras Be on the Way? By Nancy L. Jones

"The Bible tells us that God designed procreation so that plants, animals, and humans always reproduce after their own kind or seed. (Gen 1:11-12, 21) In the biblical view, then, species integrity is defined by God, rather than by arbitrary or evolutionary forces. The fusion of animal-human genomes runs counter to the sacredness of human life and man created in the image of God."

Human ear growing on the back of a rodent

Human/Animal Transgenics: When is a Mouse Not a Mouse?

By Nancy L. Jones with Linda K. Bevington

"[C]oncern over transgenic animals has focused on the breach of species barriers and the violation of species integrity entailed by the creation of such animals. The Bible tells us that God designed procreation so that plants, animals, and humans always reproduce after their own kind or seed. In the biblical view, then, species integrity is defined by God rather than by arbitrary or evolutionary forces. Christians involved in and/or concerned about transgenics should seek to determine whether the creation of a human/animal hybrid violates this biblical notion of species integrity."

Xenotransplantation and Transgenics: The Need to Discuss Limits

By C. Ben Mitchell

"Transgenics, however, leads down a path that is likely to be very thorny. Just what percentage of human genes make an animal more than animal and what percentage of animal genes make a human less than human? It's a question that may seem far-fetched, but we have to remind ourselves constantly these days that what used to be science fiction is now science fact."

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