Thursday, September 25, 2014

Will we uplift other species to sapience?

uplift-sapienceThis time, let's veer into an area wherein I actually know a thing or two!  The matter of whether humanity might someday... or even should... meddle in other creatures on this planet and bestow upon them the debatable "gift" of full sapience -- the ability to argue, ponder, store information, appraise, discuss, create, express and manipulate tools, so that they might join us in the problematic task of being worthy planetary managers.
These scribbles were created (as you might guess) as part of an interview.
What first inspired you to write about uplifting?
Some other authors (e.g. H.G. Wells, Pierre Boule, Mary Shelley, and Cordwainer Smith) dealt with this general concept before, but always by assuming the process would be abused -- that the humans bestowing this boon would spoil things by enslaving their clients of creations. Of course that is one possible (and despicable) outcome. Those were good "warning" stories with wholesome messages.
But that vein is overworked, so I wondered -- what if we someday begin modifying higher animals -- and I think we clearly will -- guided by the morality of modern liberal society?  Filled with hyper-tolerance and eager for diversity? My uplift novels portray a future in which sapient dolphins and apes serve on our councils, offer their own styles of wisdom, art and insight, enriching an Earth civilization that is no longer only human.  
It's an attractive outcome...
...but the path to get there is fraught with dangers and moral hazards.
How close do you think we genuinely are, scientifically, to being able to uplift certain species? And is there a scientific imperative to do so?
SCIENCE-UPLIFTWe are rapidly tracing the genetic mutations that empowered a sub-population of Homo erectus to transform into something theretofore never seen on Planet Earth - or possibly anywhere in the galaxy.  It appears that only a few dozen protein and regulatory genes made the crucial difference.  Already, some of these alterations are being tried in laboratory mice, so we can better understand some tragic human ailments.  

There are - at present - rules against doing such insertion experiments on higher creatures like apes. But when the prospect looms closer, can you doubt trials will begin? If it isn't allowed in the open, western scientific community, then it will happen in secret, elsewhere.  Frankly, I'd rather see this realm explored in the open, under relentless transparency and scrutiny, than let it turn into some secret, Michael-Crichton-style excuse for I-Told-You-so regrets.
MOUSE-SPEECH-GENEA recent article in Popular Mechanics: If You Give a Mouse a Human Speech Gene, It Learns Faster. Mice that receive a human version of a speech and language gene display accelerated learning! Don't expect these findings to lead to a rush of smarter, "uplifted" animals—though they might just reveal something new and fascinating about the evolution of human speech and language.
"What surprised me most was that the humanized gene actually improved the animal's behavior rather than messing up the system," says behavioral neuroscientist Kyle Smith. Science writer Charles Q. Choi notes,  “The gene for the protein called FOXP2 has been firmly linked to human speech and language. Humans with just one functional copy of this gene experience difficulties in learning and struggle with spoken and written language. The gene itself is not unique—chimps have a version of it. But because the human and chimpanzee lineages diverged roughly 6 million years ago, they don't have two key changes in amino acids that humans have evolved."
And so, it begins.

Will "uplift" include resurrecting ancient - extinct species?

I portray this happening with Neanderthals, in my recent novel EXISTENCE

Now that we have a Neanderthal genome, what's to stop someone from doing this?  Especially doing it in stages?  I am at this moment involved in a research group hoping to insert Neanderthal genes into tiny clusters of neurons to see how differently they behave.  It is a small step, but it might shed light on why our cousins were so conservative in their lifestyles and too change-resistant to adapt.

Likewise, I think we'll see mammoths restored in stages, with maybe just ten genes at a time inserted into elephant embryos.  There will be protests!  The work will be driven underground!  (As I portray in Existence.) But someone will do it.
You talk about how 'many other species on Earth appear to be stuck under a firm glass ceiling' - can you expand on this?  
uplift-barloweA while back, we were told that only humans used symbolic speech and tools.  Later, it was only dolphins and chimpanzees who could parse simple sentences.  In recent years, both rudimentary language skills and tool use have been documented in grey parrots, corvids (ravens), sea lions, elephants, every variety of ape, and even prairie dogs! Some people -- admirably empathic folks -- have declared that "this means we humans aren't so special, after all." And yes, in a sense it does mean that. Certainly, it is right that we expand our respect for Nature's other wonders and fight to preserve them.
But there is another way to look at this. If so many species -- all coming from different directions -- appear to have plateaued at about the same level, then it implies that both Darwin and Mother Nature are generous, but only up to a point. "This far, you may rise easily, many of you! But no higher.  There is a glass ceiling through which you may not pass!"
Think about it.  If so many species achieved rudimentary linguistics and tool use today, would it not have been equally likely for the top-brainy dinosaurs?  Were velociraptors equally endowed? Can we ever know? Alas, because none of them managed to put together a space program, all dinosaurs helplessly perished.
No, the lesson from all this is to be even more amazed that humanity pushed through this glass ceiling.  Smashed through it, actually, by orders of magnitude! Which then demands of us not to feel overweening pride, but a sense of duty and obligation.  To use our titanic brains to benefit the planet, not just ourselves.
But it goes beyond that. If getting past the barrier is rare, then don't we owe it to our neighbors and cousins to turn around and offer a helping hand?
What are your takes on ethical arguments against uplifting?  
uplift-word-cloudThose arguments are strong and persuasive and perhaps compelling!  For example, here's one: "Other species have their own honor and dignity and beauty and styles of intelligence!"
Yes, I agree on all counts.  And if commencing a program of uplift on, say, Tursiops dolphins would cause all of those things to vanish, then I would say stop.  But that is zero-sum thinking. And it is fallacious.
We must preserve and help the bright dolphins and elephants and parrots and sea lions foremost by restoring and expanding their habitats and natural populations.  But any uplift project would work only with a small, selected sub-population that would soon be a new and different species, on its own path of destiny. All the richness of the old root stock would be preserved. You can retain the old -- and everything worthy of respect -- while creating the new.
UPLIFT-UNIVERSE-BRINLikewise, the proclamations that uplift would be typical "human arrogance, playing god," seem easy to answer.  How about typical "human generosity"? Lending a hand to others across nature's chasm, so they might then join us building starships?
Or so their ingrate teenagers might eloquently blame us for their adolescent angst, sneering "Hey!  I didn't ASK to be this smart!"
The one argument against uplift that I find most compelling is the simplest. Yes, the goal is a beautiful one, to vastly expand the diversity of Earth's sapience, with dolphin and chimp and bonobo and gorilla and even elephant sages sitting on our councils and sharing unique insights? Great. I portray them having problems, in my novels, but the product is still a lovely dream. (To be clear, while artificial intelligence might be possible, uplifted sapience is demonstrably beyond plausible, even very likely.)
All of that sounds fine. Only... in order to get there, the chosen sub-populations will have to go through generations of awkward fits and starts. No matter how carefully and lovingly we move ahead, there will be some pain. And I can understand folks who declare that they would - on that account alone - oppose uplift, no matter how wondrous the final outcome might be.
Salk-Good-ancestorIn the end?  I (very) respectfully disagree. All generations are built for one purpose... the one fine goal that Jonas Salk spoke-of... to be good ancestors.  To suffer what we must, for our grandchildren. I can think of no greater function than to sow, so that those descendants may reap.
Dolphin parents make similar choices every day.  If they could envision what their heirs might become... the earthly and alien seas they might explore... I think they would volunteer.
 Aside from the ethical reasons you've presented, what would be the benefits - commercially or scientifically - in doing so?
StartideThe oceans of planet Earth are a vast mystery, filled with both physical wealth and unique treasures to preserve.  We are trying to learn to be good planetary managers (often stymied by other members of our own, short-sighted species.) But I doubt we could fill that role all by ourselves, anywhere near as well as if sapient dolphin partners (and critics) were by our side.  The same holds for countless other opportunities for both profit and wisdom.  (I believe that -- and portray in stories -- descendants of elephants might be the perfect living inhabitants of asteroidal colonies!)
Our biggest danger is not the one preached by Michael Crichton and so many others -- human ambition and hubristic pride.  No, our biggest danger comes from zero sum thinking. Proclaiming that we cannot seek - and sometimes achieve - the win-win. Doing well while doing good. 
What measures can be taken to protect the rights of animals if uplifting as a practice is pursued?  
SECRECY-NEWI've been a little unkind to Michael Crichton in this interview.  But in fact, every single one of his dire-danger scenarios preaches a single valuable lesson, and it is not "don't do new things."  If you read the books and watch the movies, you soon realize that the true lesson is: "don't do new things in SECRET."
The only possible way that uplift, or any other grand project, can be done well is if it is performed in the open, subjected to relentless criticism by opponents who seek out every flaw, every danger and mistake.  Only then, ironically, will the project move ahead with some strong chance of minimizing the pain... and maximizing the benefits for all.
Anything else you'd like to say on the matter? 
aficionadoI think you'll like my novella "Aficionado."  It takes a while to get to the uplift part.
Above all, let's not paint our kids in a corner, binding them to our vows, based on this generation's obsessions.  Those kids will be smarter and better than us.  If we make a civilization of decency, tolerance, maturity, thoughtfulness and fun... then they will answer all of these questions better than we slightly advanced cavemen ever could.


Paul451 said...

Off-topic: In the last thread, Tacitus2 repeated that it's too early to know the full cost of Obamacare...

However, one of the measures of the predictability of future cost is how much your estimates change over time. CBO has repeatedly estimated the cost of Obamacare and their predictions have only changed a little over the last four years.

[The most recent projection was just below that March 2013 baseline.]

Even more off-topic: I just drunkard's walked to an image of the covers of the foreign editions of Earth, and was looking at the titles, mostly Terra/Erde/etc, but one was "La chose au coeur du monde". Spoilers!]

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I've said this before. I'll no doubt say it again. But here in an Uplift thread, I think it bears the most merit in bringing up.

I think what many pet owners would like is not for animals to be Uplifted to even near-human sapience... without first increasing their lifespan. I mean, take the most visible American pet: the dog. On average they live a little over 12 years. And then they're gone. And we're left with memories and pictures.

These animals are very much like toddlers. They have that level of comprehension and do understand us to some extent even if we don't understand them unless we work at it. Now envision a dog or cat who had a near-human intelligence. Our bond to that animal would increase further. Instead of a dear friend... this Uplifted animal would be akin to a child.

And would die in 12 or so years. Or in the case of a cat, 16 or so... and up to 25 years in some extreme cases.

What we need to do is to unlock longevity in animals. We need to breed longer-living animals... and animals that live a healthy life for longer, not just living the last five years needing constant care.

Better yet, if we unlock those keys we might be able to boost our own longevity or at the very least extend how long we're viable and able to live independently.

Once you do this, then Uplift.

And here's one last thing to consider: how would an intelligent sentient animal feel knowing that their life is so much shorter than that of humans? That after a decade they'll be slowing down and have the autumn of their lives ahead?

And one step further: what if learning takes time? While a dog "ages" to the human equivalence of a teenager in one year, their life-span equivalence for reaching the point of viable communication and learning might be such that they are in what would be our 30s before they're close to our equals. And even then they might not be able to learn such things as higher mathematics or the like. They might not be able to learn biology or physics, to study the universe itself through mathematics and chemistry.

Imagine if you only had 20 years to learn all you could before you died... and the first six years of that was still being a toddler and learning the basics?

No. For ethics sake, before we Uplift animals, we need to extend their lifespan. For their sake, as well as ours.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

A alternative to purely biological uplift is technological augmentation. We are doing it to ourselves with tools, from books, to online information, to neural interfaces. At some point we will be able to add facilities to our brains by interfacing with external tools. Clarke's version was the brain cap.

It seems to me that when we can do this to humans, we will also be able to do this for animals, providing them with the faculties they currently don't have - from speech to [possibly] symbolic thinking.

Because such augmentation is not biology, it is reversible and therefore less dangerous. If there are other constraints to uplift in the animal brain, designed augmentation from without is going to be more flexible (and powerful) than hoping for the right faculties by gene implants.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert - OTOH, long lived animals might pity the shorter lived humans and even worry what is to become of them when their human companions die first.

Don't forget human life spans are very different today in the developed nations than they were just a century ago. We already have longer, active lives than populations in much poorer countries. Those people are already "uplifted" to our level, so should we be providing the needed healthcare so that their population lifespans are close to ours?

David Brin said...

Alex in Futurama a monkey wore a HAT that made him smart.

Rob, I well recall your very moving appeal for life-span. Fortunately, I believe it will be MUCH easier to double a dog's lifespan. Alas, much harder for us. We have already picked the low hanging fruit.

Stefan Jones said...

Olaf Stapledon glossed over how Sirius managed to be so long-lived. It was kind of a cheat.

* * *
The graphically-modest but thoughtful webcomic Freefall is set on a colony world where the sentient robots are claiming rights, with the help of an uplifted red wolf:

The strip recently revealed that the wolf's creator, and the architect of teh robot's neural structure, is an uplifted chimp . . . the last member of a "discontinued" species. Turns out chimpanzees were too sociopathic for public release.

* * *
On the Aficionados front:

Neil Anderson, a member of the local rocket club who last I knew was a 18 year old about to head off to college, was responsible for this bit of amazement:

That's the Black Rock desert down below.

Tom Crowl said...

I suppose this is an obvious comment, but I'm currently reading "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt...

And that along with current headlines suggest that we'd best first start with humans.

This isn't merely a cheap and obviouls joke... but a realization that what might be called "collective rationality" (in other words an ability to build and sustain a culture embracing balanced competition alongside co-operation) seems to be an ephemeral goal.

There is a simple formula that seems to suggest a problem. As technology increases along with complexity and interdependence... so does a civilization's vulnerability.

I'm all for 'enlightening' dogs... but first we need to consistently and broadly enlighten humans... especially in their groups.

(This is no criticism since I know this is an area you spend a great deal of time and even a greater amount of energy trying to address.)

But it may be... no I'll just plain make the assertion... that addressing the problems of global governance is even more important that global warming, terrorism, wealth division, emergent diseases, etc... because all of those will ultimately depend on collective approaches.

I also assert that meaningful mechanisms for "heat-from-the-bottom" are essential.

When a diamond miner sits on the committee determining the pay for the CEO of DeBeers we'll know we're making progress.

P.S. A crazy idea: as we all know politicians don't work for the money... they just want to help! So how about requiring politicians to literally live a life style commensurate with the median income. Then their motivations would truly align with the idea of lifting all boats.

Stefan Jones said...

"So how about requiring politicians to literally live a life style commensurate with the median income."

Only if they have to maintain that lifestyle for the rest of their lives.

That guarantees:

1) They're not just living on the cheap for a few years as a way to qualify for being a lobbyist or board member.

2) Their decisions in office will be more foresighted, since their future lifestyle will depend on the common good.

Tom Crowl said...

Sounds good Stefan... When they put us in charge let's implement it!

Tom Crowl said...

Off topic but just saw it:

Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun

So if we screw things up here this may mean life still has a better chance elsewhere.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul451 said...

" how would an intelligent sentient animal feel knowing that their life is so much shorter than that of humans?"

How do humans cope with it? There's huge variation amongst societies, and even with societies.

Violent lives, usually.

But I'm all for directing senescence research towards pets. Pet care is a huge industry, and that is a killer product.

Jumper said...

Late research shows a higher social component to mammalian intelligence than in the past. Elephants and canines, for two. The idea that one can release various species in the wild after growing up in homo sap's cage, and "instinct," a most fuzzy term, will somehow magically give the critter survival skills, is being recognized as faulty.

Also, as Robert noted recently, and again today,the lifespan of an uplifted creature such as a dog, should be extended to be ethical. Which led me to realize no matter how "smart" a dog is, at present he will have an average of 12 years or so of experience. That is a limit.

David Brin, are you a dog owner?

Alex Tolley said...

So how about requiring politicians to literally live a life style commensurate with the median income. Then their motivations would truly align with the idea of lifting all boats.

Every so often, (at least in the UK) when a politician claims that they can live off the generous welfare payments, the press puts them to the test. They fail miserably. I would very much doubt that most politicians could live sustainably at the median wage. So I like this idea to focus their minds on their constituents.

Perhaps even better, they have to try to live at each quartile median mages, where each period is a reflection of their population demographics. Federal level politicos use the national figures.

Unfortunately, if Lessig is right, this is actually the worse thing to do, as it would create an even more corrupt system as politicians try to get their lobbying job rewards very quickly, say within a single term.

Alex Tolley said...

Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun

Isn't that rather obvious as the sun is formed from an interstellar nebula. If it was younger than the sun, it would imply either nucleosynthesis of oxygen in the sun, or H20 formation during planetary formation, rather than the expected condensation beyond the "snow line".

David Brin said...

Jumper we have an elderly golden retriever who saw all of our kids through most of childhood and off to college. A very happy fellow who always had a large yard and love. But preparing for a sad parting.

David Brin said...

Stefan... cool video!

Mad Fabe said...

Dr. Brin I believe that uplift will happen. The only thing is will it happen in secret first with the government reluctantly forced to come in and regulate it. or will the government have the insight to let it happen in the open and control the process. I also think that any uplifted species will face the good and the bad that the human species is capable of. I mean look what we have done to members of our own species.

raito said...


With regards to your dog, you might want to look at this:

As for other points here...

Increased lifespan takes us into a different sf-subgenre, doesn't it?

And with regards to the Salk quote, I think of it as I'm the booster rocket for my children. It's hard for them to stand on the shoulders of giants if I'm a midget.

I agree with Lessig on the corruption thing. I think my preference might be more along the lines that if legislators vote themselves a raise, it also raises both welfare benefits and the minimum wage.

But it is part of the problem that at least the members of US Congress (and probably many state legislative bodies) are so far removed from the average person economically.

Howard Brazee said...

I very much enjoy your uplift novels. But I wish to note the implied direction of "up", of us being the highest species. We have lots of wars which are basically arguing about whose values are highest.

Jumper said...

Hope the old dog finds peace around the exit path.
I was curious if you knew dog minds first hand, so now I know you do.
There's so much we don't know about effect of extended neoteny on simple stuff like bone growth. Could an extended dog be free of arthritis? Maybe! More time for growth plasticity to strengthen and adapt joints for extended wear. Our knees get some 14 years to settle into their final formations and last (not long enough!) pretty well. But in general the effects of long neoteny / growth need more study. Tortoises are interesting. I don't know about their joints.

Tacitus said...

The playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote what I consider the most fitting Last Will and Testament to a dog ever.

Don't read it if you are not somewhere appropriate for tears.


rewinn said...

I hope sociality would be included in any uplift scenario. I love my cats, they have complex emotional lives and it would be wonderful to talk things over from their point of view, but they don't have any more conscience than Hannibal Lecter.

Perhaps uplift would benefit from looking at the uplift of a society of species, not of individual species themselves. With rare exceptions, improvements in the human condition have come from teams, not individuals - and usually teams that agreed to work together.


I like the idea of paying congress a multiple of median wage, but when it comes to affecting their behavior, is their pay really significant? When you have to come up with $10 million to get a job that pays $174,000 a year, there's something else going on. Going after that "something else" is probably more important.


Ancient water:
This may explain why even 18-year-old scotch is better on the rocks.

Tom Crowl said...

Duncan.. note I didn't say anything about their pay... I suggested limiting their lifestyle to one commensurate with median income.

These are very different things.

But it was not an entirely serious suggestion... but it does reflect a serious issue.

And that is that quite literally excessive wealth... and especially its social implications... leads to a disconnection which will NOT give them sufficient internal fortitutde to address disparities with sufficient strength to overcome the sentiments they share with their social class.

ALL oligarchies have a "left"... (and Dr. Brin is correct... they are a sharper and more scientifically oriented bunch)... but note that this has not prevented the growth.. and in fact an acceleration of wealth division. (Which will become self-sustaining up to a point).

And once again I suggest that... while a simplification this is a manifestation of the altruism dilema and natural cognitive limits as expressed by Dunbars Number.

This is why I advocate "Heat from the bottom"... it may not always be light... but it will give the 'wealthy left' some needed perspective and a sense of urgency.

Frankly, I believe this is a much more urgent issue than the ruling class realizes.

And there are no Roosevelts on the horizon to save them.

thrig said...

Indeed! With the end of cars (you stopped driving already, right?) those lost opportunities to exercise can be excised, the needless energy consumption curtailed, and the unhealthy obsession over those leading causes of death eliminated. A refuge from Tennessee said car drivers would throw things at him as he walked, and I might also mention the bizarre case of Raquel Nelson, though thankfully there is now the "Strong Towns" movement to help undo those grim blunders of the age of the car.

But I must ask, what exactly are the space ships for? The zero gee, easy access to a hard vacuum, and low temperatures do not seem at all livable (even for dinosaurs, which I heard some chirping this morning over the insane roar from I-5), and a read of the excellent "Ignition!" by John D. Clark points to the hilariously toxic rocket fuels being largely a by-product of the age of the petroleum boom.

locumranch said...

It is a given that humans will engage in 'Uplift' -- we have done so for countless generations -- but to what end?

For our own selfish reasons, of course !!

(1) To modify & domesticate other species to our own ends such as meat, labour or companionship;

(2) To bolster our rather delicate human egos through the subjugation of others or 'the making of pets'; and

(3) To improve our own station by the creation of a permanent slave class of 'Underpeople' to do our bidding as predicted by Cordwainer Smith.

But, never out of mere 'good intentions', never for the sake of any other species, never for their 'best interests', never out of misplaced altruism, nor should we even entertain the idea, because such an act would be our undoing, the equivalent of suckling a wild animal at our bosom.

Read 'Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets', 1984, by Yi-Fu Tuan, before you engage in further 'skritching & yiffing' and make total (furry) fools out of yourselves.


David Brin said...

Howard Brazee: “We have lots of wars which are basically arguing about whose values are highest.”

Well, yes, your chiding is well-taken and based on decent values… which you promote… versus OTHER values which do not venerate tolerance and diversity. Which would encompass nearly all other societies that ever existed.

Which delivers quite an irony, no? By propounding that tolerance and diversity are paramount values, you besmirch the xenophobic and violently chauvinistic other cultures that dominated 99% of human existence. You are not only a rebel… but a militant promoter of a particular worldview that 99% of our ancestors would call dangerously insane!

Now, it happens I agree with your value system and not theirs! In fact, I believe we must CRUSH every worldview that’s incompatible with tolerance and diversity!

If you did not chuckle at that irony, then sorry, you don’t get it. Context & irony.

David Brin said...

Locum, alas, seems so unaware of his inability to grasp the positive sum that he keeps relentlessly and ironically offering us perfect examples of this handicap. His latest missive, above, lays it perfectly bare. And trying to show him non-zero-sum options is like describing to a color blind person the difference between red and blue.

And yes, it is ironic, since his criticisms are exactly the kind that help to prevent exactly the zero sum outcomes that he lists.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Suckling the wild animal? Like we did with the wolves who tend turned into our defenders when they made the mental leap and thought of our families as their packs?

The Arctic was colonized in at least two waves. The first group did it without dogs and managed. The second group arrived with dogs and pushed them aside due to very different calorie requirements for their 'family' units. Those dogs aren't pets, slaves, or food. They are symbionts and they aren't the only species to make this deal with us.

Alex Tolley said...

The underlying assumption is that "uplift" is a positive move. But can we be sure of that? Western human society is all about uplift through education. There is the obvious cultural bias from the highly educated, elitist who is proposing it. But note that a fraction of the US population thinks that only basic education is valuable. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't want much education, and certainly not for women. Vigorous arguments are given for this, similar to those who only wanted white males educated.

What might be the benefit for the uplifted animal? Certainly enhanced cognition, but also perhaps the recognition that they are the junior races, subject to human laws, and demands. That may not be the most advantageous position to be in. (The Cordwainer Smith position?). Perhaps ignorance is better? It would be nice if we could ask the animals for their thoughts first, even if only the experimental uplifted ones.

We can alos consider that not just biologicals but machines can be "uplifted". AIs are clearly uplifted machines. In their case, the uplift might just result in higher functioning than humans. How often is that considered a good thing, rather than something to be feared. Thus we may like uplifting animals because they are assumed to always be our inferiors not superiors.

Paul451 said...

Howard Brazee,
Re: The "Up" in Uplift
"We have lots of wars which are basically arguing about whose values are highest."

So did the Uplift novels.

Tom Crowl said...

The Ken Burns Roosevelt doc was great!
But here's a point that needs emphasizing:

"Burns' documentary series tells the story of those remarkable accomplishments. But what he overlooks is the battle for FDR's heart and mind."

Burns Overlooks Secret of FDR's Success: Power of the People

Alfred Differ said...

I know of too many people who think of their pets as their fur babies to believe that they would always consider them to be inferiors if they were of an uplifted variety. No doubt some others would consider them inferiors, but opinion would be split and the so-called inferiors would have staunch defenders.

Alfred Differ said...


The spaceships are for the same thing the canoes were for when we left Africa, crossed to Australia, and colonized the Pacific and Indian ocean islands. They expand what we are by turning us into an invasive species. 8)

A.F. Rey said...

One advantage of other uplifted species is that there would be other intelligent species in case something happened to humans.

If, as our esteemed host says, we are the intelligent protectors of this planet, then having a backup would be the responsible thing to do.

Paul451 said...

A.F. Rey,
Or just having someone who can idiot-check our work.

Alfred Differ,
It will be interesting to see "animal rights" people fighting other "animal rights" people over gaining human rights for uplifted animals versus uplift itself being a violation of their rights as animals.

Aside: It will also be interesting if there's a parallel movement of humans who use the genetic knowledge won by uplift researchers to add animal traits to their own genomes.

Paul451 said...

(well, non-human animal traits.)

["practised gymentso", and failed, apparently.]

Jumper said...

I blame human children for adopting critters. A friend ended up with racoons. His son found a brood whose mama had died, so... However, they aren't domestic, really, or rather, no one can find a proper job for one. Opening all the jars is not a job, it's a damned nuisance.
Regarding cats, it's likely they adopted us, not the other way around. Many old-school farmers I met did not believe in spending a penny on a cat, and certainly would never buy cat food. My grandfather used to neuter the toms with his pocketknife...

David Brin said...

Alex, alas, is doing the same thing, failing to look in a mirror and realizing that his own reflex to criticize humanity and society is the very thing that will, ironicallly, resolve the problems that he criticizes.

I portray this in the uplift novels.

I do not make light of the problems! Cordwainer Smith and Boule and Wells all had it easy, portraying uplift as bungled by cruel slavemasters. I tackle the far more complex moral landscape we must cross if we try this thing with the BEST of intentions and safeguards and adversarial accountability. And criticism to avoid errors.

Even so, the two hundred years that uplifted species must cross will contain pain. And in my books I do portray the mix of shame and anger and gratitude that will likely be theirs, toward the end of a difficult transition. I do not claim it will be easy, painless or without moral hazard.

But the end result could be beyond beautiful.

locumranch said...

Tuan's argument is not as easy to dismiss as my own:

To whit, Tuan argued that the human affection (predilection; propensity; affectation) for 'uplift', aka 'the making and keeping of pets', springs from the human need to dominate, subjugate and humble another being, for the purpose of exerting human (and/or individual) authority over a subservient subclass, in manner consistent with (and indistinguishable from) the act of enslavement, in the sense that the 'affection' and 'love' are domination-contingent, just as the term 'paternalism' (the policy of governing others in a fatherly manner) signifies little more than subjugation in disguise.

As we cannot 'mother' or protect what we do not dominate, we are irresistibly drawn to powerless objects (kittens, puppies, human infants, etc) and it is this very powerless non-threatening quality that we claim to love. We love the effeminate boy band, the oppressed minority, the damsel in distress and our imperiled environment, but love quickly becomes hate & fear when these same objects gain the upper hand because, once empowered, a masculinized Justin Bieber is but a potential rapist, an Arab Spring is another Islamic Insurgency, the damsel in distress becomes an emasculating bitch and our imperiled environment becomes (once again) a deadly adversary.

And, so it is in David's Uplift stories. We are asked to feel affection for (identify with) 'otherness' as long as we can perceive the other as either domesticated, diminished or nonthreatening. We are encouraged to love these cute and subsevient dolphins & gorillas as if they were our own children BECAUSE they have been thoroughly neutered and subjugated (aka 'uplifted' and 'improved') in accordance with our cultural aesthetic, but we do so at our own peril:

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!

And, an orangutan wearing clothes can still rip your face off, Jim!


David Brin said...

Zowee Locum. Aren't you even remotely curious about this "positive sum game" than others -- who you know are very smart people -- tell you exists but you appear incapable of perceiving?

Yes, sure, teenager humans become far less adorable when they are large and skilled enough to both defend and take care of themselves. My kids got all prickly and you're-not-the-boss-of-me.

But funny thing. We still adore them... and domination is not the goal. Moreover the whole trend of 70 years has been for people in enlightenment societies to increase their empathy for faraway peoples, the more TV etc exposes us to them, leading in the plummeting rates of *per capita* violence.

Sorry, friend. All you are proclaiming is your own limitations, not mine.

Alex Tolley said...

David, your novels are not reality, just your stories about what could be. Claiming that uplift is beneficial could be construed as hubris. It just isn't enough for you to claim that you have considered all the potential issues but have decided the outcome is positive, yet at the same time dismiss those other authors of stature who do not see the outcome as favorably. You can argue that such authors are cynics, or just seeing the dark side, but these authors, if they were alive today, could call your viewpoint panglossian.

I don't wish to take either side. I am just asking the question about the assumptions. Make no mistake, creating more intelligent versions of existing species will be done, initially for scientific understanding, then for commercial reasons - such as Clarke's "An Ape about the House" (which is a positive uplift story).

Acacia H. said...

I have to wonder if the theory of entropy is why some people refuse to believe in positive sum games. Or even believe in negative sum games.

Think of it. Things will go from a state of order to disorder. Eventually the universe will suffer heat death and in theory even protons will decay until there is nothing but electrons (assuming they don't decay as well) and any subatomic particles that can exist outside of atoms.

And yet with science you can see proof of a positive sum game. Any planet going around a star. If a planet were just in the void without a star, then it would slowly cool, and then freeze in time. But a star will provide energy from outside, allowing the atmosphere to be warmed. In short, solar radiation creates a positive sum for heating a planet. And in the case of some planets like Venus, this heating continues on and on because of greenhouse effects until the planet is far hotter than you'd expect from the radiation it receives.

So too with society and wealth. We have outside variables that increase wealth. For instance, food production. Food is grown using soil, water, and sunlight. It is then utilized and most of it is gone. But sunlight from outside and soil and water once more are used to grow more crops. This is an example of a positive-sum game. There is constant growth because of a renewable resource (food). Wealth is thus increased as a result.

I can already hear the cries. "But food is not money!" Ah, but it is. Everything is money. Food is. Water is. Houses are. Manufactured goods are. We use currency to allow for the exchange of different forms of money (be it food, water, manufactured goods, or whatever else). And seeing that new products are constantly introduced and new food is constantly grown and new minerals are constantly mined and existing products are recycled and made into new products... money has to increase.

It is all a massive positive-sum game. People just lie to themselves and claim due to entropy it is zero-sum or negative-sum. And in the ultimate long-run, they are possibly correct. But the length of time for that long-run is perhaps trillions of years in the future. In the meantime, there is still growth.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

RobH you are right. The question is not why so many people are stuck in zero sum thinking, since nature is almost entirely zero sum and so were most human societies.

The amazing thing is that such a large fraction of humans CAN — under very limited and special circumstances - come to think in terms of positive sums.

Those circumstances are themselves very rare. Satiability is a major component, plus the plentiful life that allows satiability to become satiation.

But cultural matters are also very important. I would wager than most human societies would not go positive sum for the majority, even if generations lived in plenty. The mythology of the West for 200 years — repetitiously pouring out lessons of tolerance, diversity, horizon expansion, inclusion, egalitarianism, eccentricity and suspicion of authority… has certainly been a huge factor.

And yet, even so, there is a large minority of Americans who seem terrified of positive-sum thinking. Despite the fact that pos-sum arenas like markets and science have demonstrably been spectacularly effective.

Note that I do not only deem the political Right to be like this. Many of those on the left — those who shrilly demand ever widening horizons of inclusion — do so in zero sum ways, proclaiming that their loyalty and devotion to the edges of inclusion (the poor, foreigners, women…) be at the COST of denouncing older loyalties, like nation or traditional family. That is very very zero-sum.

I wonder if this solves the riddle of the Fermi Paradox. The one way out of traps like “limits to growth” and eco-degradation and malthusian pits, is to go spectacularly positive sum. But I doubt nature allows many species to even be capable of this escape valve. And maybe humanity falls just barely short.

David Brin said...

Alex you are raising a strawman to yell at - a scarecrow who is not me: “Claiming that uplift is beneficial could be construed as hubris. It just isn't enough for you to claim that you have considered all the potential issues but have decided the outcome is positive, yet at the same time dismiss those other authors of stature who do not see the outcome as favorably”

Sorry, that is drivel. I never made such claims. Indeed, you clearly never read even one of the Uplift Novels, if you make such an assertion. Much space is given to weighing all sides.

Those who cynically proclaim that humanity will automatically do things in the most stupid, evil and simpleminded way possible are the ones who are staking out a reflex position. I am proposing that Uplift be on the table, with open eyes to the costs and moral hazards. But THAT alone - just putting it on the table - is enough to make people furious.

I consider it to be worth posing that “all species have their own honor”. That is just fine… but it can be countered with “the first to smash through the glass ceiling owes an obligation to others who are left behind. And it is churlish to declare only we will ever get to contemplate quandaries such as this one.”

Especially since the root stock of each species would be left alone.

Do not thereupon turn around and claim that you have the middle ground, when you will not even consider the pros as well as the cons, or the possibility - borne out by 200 years of steadily improving wisdom - that civilization might actually heed warnings and avoid errors and avoid stupid errors, BECAUSE fellows like you warn against them.

Or possibly even achieve positive ends without losing our souls.

Acacia H. said...

The Fermi Paradox is far easier to solve than people think. They are thinking too large.

We have not detected definitive proof of life on any body outside of the Earth. It may very well be that in order for life to form, you need significant tidal forces. You also need a means of preventing a planet from becoming tidally locked - a sizable moon. Even so, we do know of two planets that have moons large enough you could in theory consider both double-planet systems - the Earth-Moon system, and Pluto-Charon.

So double-planet systems may be viable in outside areas. Assuming that there is one double-planet system for every ten planets (and assuming we find an additional five so-called "dwarf" planets in the Sol system), then we need to factor in how many double-planets exist in habitable zones of stars.

We then also need to determine how many of those star systems aren't disrupted by wandering gas giants.

And then we need to eliminate all stars that are close to the galactic center due to the problem with gamma ray bursts - if one strikes too close to a planet, the resulting disruption could destroy all higher life forms. So you want regions of lower star density or with older stars.

We also need to allow for Extinction Events and the length of time it takes for multicellular life to form.

In time we may learn that no, life is not common. Earth may be a gem in the cosmos. We were in the right place at the right time. We got lucky, assuming there is such a thing as luck. Or statistically there was a chance, no matter how small, that intelligent life would form. And that chance finally came up.

We may be the first intelligent species in our galaxy. Or we may be the first intelligent species in our galaxy that can actually escape our planet's gravitational field with relative ease - other intelligent species could exist in Superearths where space elevators could never exist and that have no moon for gravitational slingshots. And who might have atmospheres that are quite thick and hazy so that they never really have a night, or view other stars (outside of the occasional supernova that lights up the sky).

Would there be any interest in going into space if we didn't see any stars or a moon? Why go beyond if all there is in the sky is clouds and sky and more sky?

And if life formed in a world like Europa under an ice shell... why would life ever try to leave the only world they know? Why would they consider there might be something outside? With no glimpse of outside... why seek it?

The Fermi Paradox is only a paradox if you think that there are a multitude of worlds much like the Earth out there with life like our own. Life may be varied and diverse. And it may exist in environments we'd find inhospitable. And it may be those environments are hard to replicate in space itself... and thus those lifeforms are trapped on their worlds.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Hmmm well, I've been pondering the Great Silence for 30 years. No one "explanation" is convincing and I rate the "rare-Earth" scenarios below the top ten by some margin.

The one area where we have zero data is how easy/hard it was to make intelligence like ours. More and more, I lean toward that one. But you will never catch me declaring THE answer.

j said...

Dr Brin,

The most troubling bit of your piece is the silence in it regarding the already-existing intelligence of some of the animals you wish to 'uplift.' It really troubles me that you seem to be suggesting that the obviously intelligent non-human creatures might be made 'more productive,' or that they might 'participate' in human affairs as if that were the ultimate telos of 'life.' And further: why is uplifting a non-human tantamount to making it a non-human... human?

I'm reminded of the exchange Kirk has with Spock when Kirk blurts out that 'everyone's human.' To which Spock's wonderful response is that 'I find that offensive.'

joseph benavides

Alex Tolley said...

@DB ...but it can be countered with “the first to smash through the glass ceiling owes an obligation to others who are left behind....

That is exactly the question that is left begging. You are assuming that inte,lligence is the most important attribute. But that is an anthropocentric view. Intelligence is not some privileged attribute that evolution has discovered, proven to be such because humans have dominated the planet. Relatively high intelligence has not been proven to be a good long term evolutionary advantage. Stephen Baxter suggested that biological intelligence reached a peak and then declined in his novel "Evolution" (2003).

Other species might well choose other traits that they excel in as the direction for "uplift".

Clarke, like you, put intelligence as the pinnacle of evolution. The Odyssey series makes that very specific - a goal of teh alien race that uplifted our pre-human ancestors, and it is a theme that is echoed across all his novels. As a WE educated human, I agree with that position. But I also accept that it has a cultural bias. A dear departed fried of mine used to argue the opposite and considered humans a cancer that needed to be keep from contaminating other worlds, a view that was not unique to him.

So I do not see that I am making a straw man argument at all, just questioning the assumnption you make regarding intelligence - a devil's advocate position. If you believe you have answered that question in the "Uplift" novels, then fine, although that doesn't mean that your arguments settle the matter, just that this is the conclusion you have drawn.

[As for which novels I have read in this series, just "Startide Rising". There are only so many hours in a day for my attention and other authors share a slice of that time].

Duncan Cairncross said...

I have just read that paper on "GRB's"

Very interesting - BUT - I don't see how they are treating one of these as an extinction event

Total loss of the ozone layer would be serious - but would it be an extinction event?
Would it not simply lead to domination of organisms that can stand the UV?
And would the ozone layer not simply heal in a matter of months?

It is not as if there are chemicals we put up there chewing at it

A more serious flaw is the time scale
a 20 second event would only have an effect on one side of the planet,
The total energy involved for the "larger" events - 1000Kj/m2
is equivalent to the sun for 16 minutes -
An extra 16 minutes of sun would not be the type of energy to dramatically effect the other side (night side) even if it did zap the ozone on one side of the planet

So in a worse case you zap the ozone on one side - some organisms are damaged by the UV but on the other side all is normal and the ozone layer quickly re-establishes itself

If the brief dose of UV has killed lots of things on one hemisphere the beasts on the other will rapidly re-colonize

Not a pleasant event - but not an extinction level event

locumranch said...

Tales of uplift are a scifi staple, used again & again by the likes of Wells, de Camp, Simak, van Vogt, Pohl, Clarke & our host, but only Brin (with the possible exception of Wells speaking as Dr. Moreau) appears to embrace uplift with moral certainty, as if this 'White Man's Burden' variant represents a religious commandment, and this is just one moral imperative among many:

Love thy neighbour, respect the specialist, accept climate change, embrace optimism, cooperate, conform, submit & TWODA.

These are not the 'live & let live' sentiments of a libertarian.


Tony Fisk said...

Cool, if a little off topic.

A simple but v. effective invisibility cloak.
(with photographs)

Jumper said...

Uplift scenarios, to be seen as just, will have to treat newly-intelligent beings much better than we now treat already-intelligent species.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tony - it is just another of those "if you look at it though this fairly narrow viewpoint it works" demonstrations. I'm much more impressed with techniques that work much more like a cloak.

South Korea's "Tower Infinity" is more like it and I think conceptually works more like biological camouflage using chromatophores - such as flatfish and cephalopds use.

Tim H. said...

Other minds to talk to would be grand, but the road for whales and apes seems daunting and painful. Will they thank us?

David Brin said...

Locum: "but only Brin (with the possible exception of Wells speaking as Dr. Moreau) appears to embrace uplift with moral certainty, as if this 'White Man's Burden' variant represents a religious commandment, and this is just one moral imperative among many: Love thy neighbour, respect the specialist, accept climate change, embrace optimism, cooperate, conform, submit & TWODA."

Ah, well, back off his meds. Capering and jibbering in some random directions that have nothing to do with me or anything I ever said. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

David Brin said...

“j” has done exactly the same thing that I assert Alex has done, below.

Alex said: “You are assuming that intelligence is the most important attribute.”

There you go again! Not one word that I said supports such an assertion or assumption. Indeed, the maintenance of fallow populations, safe and unchanged, is a core moral point raised in the complex discussions of the pros and cons of uplift, that you clearly never read. Or skimmed past.

What I do is resist any stifling dogma. And right now the admirable trait of western self criticism has metastacized into something quite different… a reflex to automatically and always dismiss all values that seem even remotely related to ambition, or the possibility of achieving positive sum outcomes.

Your dear friend who calls humanity a cancer on the planet can be helpful if he votes and donates to Greenpeace, but he becomes a silly-ass cynic when he mopes and derides even the POSSIBILITY that we are in a rough, adolescent phase, and possibly this planet’s only chance to see, hear, know or reproduce.

The utter, blithering arrogance! Here's your pal, actually being honest:

“I deem humans to be unthinking, uncaring cancers… EXCEPT FOR ME!!!! And a few pals. We are sooooo superior to the millions and billions of our neighbors, who cannot possibly be roused to caring about the planet and the future, the way we few do!

" I invented environmentalism! I will ignore the possibility that I suckled it from youth, in a relentless propaganda campaign that also turned at least a billion humans into caring planetary citizens.

“That realization won’t stroke my erect ego, so I will ignore the possibility that -by being active and optimistic - I might help draw another billion into caring, and another billion, till we get past this blatantly adolescent phase.

"Instead, because it makes me feel smug, I will wallow in zero-sum cynicism and call my neighbors “cancer!”

David Brin said...

Indeed, in EARTH I juxtapose these two versions of Gaia Worship, giving them both full voice.

“So I do not see that I am making a straw man argument at all, just questioning the assumption you make regarding intelligence”.

I agree! I totally agree that you do not see it. Although it is blatant that you made statements that had absolutely nothing to do with what I actually said, painting ME as the fanatic when all I have done is say that there are many options and all should be considered, without pre-judice.

anon said...

Do children enjoy discipline? Do convicts desire imprisonment? Do women wish for rape?

Other species will not thank us for uplift.

Jumper said...

Once upon a time the youngest, about 1.75 years old, was crying and couldn't say the problem. His brother, about 4.95 years old, could both speak intelligently and often spoke baby talk to his little brother for fun. Not in English.
So their father and I asked the older, do you know what he's saying; do you understand him? (Referring to the young toddler.)

Yes! he said. My brother and I were rapt: we had an interpreter! So what is he saying?

The older started to speak! He... and he stopped! What? my brother and I asked with bated breath.

He... I don't know how...

There is no way to relay the old way of thinking into our minds. It is not a shortcoming of the old mind, it is a shortcoming of the new.

David Brin said...

I would have more respect for the reflexive reactors' hostility to uplift, even as a suggestion for discussion on the table, if it weren't so vehemently emotional, using only the most simplistic cliches.

"They have their own intelligence!" Um... what is accomplished by taking a perfectly good word and turning it so vague that it becomes valueless? That only means we must come up with a new word for all the things that humans can do, that other creatures cannot -- and then these folks will do the same thing again. "Other species have their OWN sapience!" "Other species have their OWN zorplax!"

Again, if this were zero sum... if the original root stock species were to vanish when the new one took form, that would be one thing. If - blatantly - the root species will be left alone and even have its habitats restored/expanded, then many of the arguments collapse and we are left with:

1) accusations of "hubris." To which I reply that hubris is as hubris does. Michael Crichton would demand that we try NO new things, because all new things are arrogance... so he would type on his laptop while streaking overhead in corporate jets while doctors extended his life.

Every Crichtonian scenario (and he would have got around to denouncing uplift; I portray a character much like him doing that, in EXISTENCE) happens not because of hubris, but because the innovation is done in secrecy. And therefore awful mistakes happen. And so it was in the uplift scenarios of Wells and Boule. And why assume we're idiots?

But that is what zero-summers MUST do! Take Mr. "anon."

"Do children enjoy discipline? Do convicts desire imprisonment? Do women wish for rape?Other species will not thank us for uplift."

Yep, thanks for summing up all of human existence. Minor matters like generosity, curiosity, courage, creativity, love... symphonies, joyful argument, expanding tolerance and diversity and inclusion... penetrating the atom and the cosmos... none of these account for much.

DON'T imagine and work for an end to all rape, forever. Instead, assume that it cannot be done and we, who denounce it and strive to end it, are instead complicit and should die, die, die. Morons.

David Brin said...

2) Pain. That is the one argument against uplift that I find reasonably compelling. The end reult... dolphins or chimps or elephants who can at last contemplate great mysteries and come up with their own philosophies and argue with us weighty matters... or have new kinds of fun and self-expression... this is a fine result.

But do such ends justify all means? Even pain? Which will be inevitable during the long transition? Here I do not have a rebuttal. It is one reason to move slowly.

Alex Tolley said...

@ DB
There are times when I think it is you that needs to be on some medication.

1. You may not have said intelligence is te most important human attribute, but as you come out on the side of uplift, you are claiming that, on balance, this is a positive thing. Arguing with yourself in a novel does not make that claim valid. If the claim was in a scientific paper, you would be subject to external peer review.

2. And right now the admirable trait of western self criticism has metastacized into something quite different… a reflex to automatically and always dismiss all values that seem even remotely related to ambition, or the possibility of achieving positive sum outcomes.

This is your reflexive response to any alternative viewpoints. It is also a projection that I do not think valid. What I hear, when anyone argues that human nature has generally gone in a difference direction is "This may be undesirable, but the Bayesian priors suggest this is the smart way to bet". That is a very different mentality than the pop science psychology you use to project onto anyone with a counter argument.

3. Your dear friend who calls humanity a cancer on the planet can be helpful if he votes and donates to Greenpeace, but he becomes a silly-ass cynic when he mopes and derides even the POSSIBILITY that we are in a rough, adolescent phase, and possibly this planet’s only chance to see, hear, know or reproduce.

The irony of this statement is obvious. You get annoyed if there is any suggestion that you are being misquoted or misunderstood, but then you do exactly the same yourself. I quoted a single phrase from my deceased friend, and without knowing anything more, conflated it into a diatribe about environmentalism, Gaia worship, elitism etc. You couldn't be more wrong about his thoughts and who he was. (Your projection in your next "quote" is just unseemly). So stop already.

Theulogians argue from authority, and definitely tried that approach on Dawkins in several debates. To paraphrase: "Your arguments are straw man ones. You need to have studied theology and then you would see that we have looked carefully at all the arguments and arrived at the conclusion that God exists. Don't presume to argue with us until you have done so". blah, blah. The Brin argument from authority: "I have written about this in my books and thought about this for decades. Until you have read all my books (including novels) and fully absorbed the arguments, then you may not argue with me" blah, blah. To hear this from a scientist is just dispiriting.

When people have widely opposing differences of opinion, the rational approach to winning an argument is to try to understand why their opinion is so different and to try to find ways to show why it is incorrect, or that your own is a better one. The authoritarian approach is to try to intellectually bludgeon your opponent's argument. This is the approach of the debate and the courtroom. It is the approach that is based on winning, rather than arriving at the truth.

locumranch said...

As I quoted Tuan on Dominance & Affection (and subjugation) to challenge rather than oppose, I must add that I don't object to 'uplift' per se, but only to its moral justification as being unequivocally 'good'. Similarly, I must take the opposite position to task, this assumption that uplift is immoral and therefore 'bad', by answering Anon's questions in a contrary manner.

Yes, indeed. Children do enjoy discipline, convicts do desire imprisonment and women do wish for rape, but only in the sense that subjugation (dominance; oppression) is the basis for the mammalian social construct, one that we share with dogs, chicken & horses.

Call it 'pecking order' if you prefer, or 'Stockholm Syndrome' if you'd rather, but admit that this social contract is how humans demonstrate affection for & interrelate with each other, by expressing mutual interest in the form of external control, abuse, loyalty, cuffs & caresses.

And, like taming a dog, we socially isolate those that we profess to love, reward them with disproportionate attention, subject them to emotional controls, promote interdependency, demonstrate the futility of individual action, civilise them in accordance with current fashion, and we do it all for the sake of 'their own (social) good'.

One can therefore conclude that the human social order, by its very nature, is not only unfair & abusive, but probably amoral, which gives humanity the right to dispose of themselves, the other & their environment in any way they see fit, free from the artificial influence of divine morality.


Acacia H. said...

Actually, yes. Intelligence is a trait that would serve animals quite well. Imagine elephants and rhinos intelligent enough to track hunters and either kill them or avoid them. Imagine wolves who are canny enough to avoid poisoned bait and to evade humans. Or dolphins and whales who are able to avoid Japanese whaling and fishing boats and not be slaughtered.

Sorry. Intelligence is a potent and useful ability and gifting it to animals would be something worthwhile. Both in the wild and in a more civilized setting.

BTW, there are three webcomics with Uplifted species. One is Freefall which has an uplifted wolf, robots, and one chimp. The second, Schlock Mercenary, has uplifted chimps, elephants, and other species. The third, Quantum Vibe, has several species that were uplifted (including androids) and some people will use genetic modification to take on new forms (including one human who turned himself into a giant rooster).

For that matter, there's Kevin & Kell in which all species are sentient and which examines such issues as predation and the like among intelligent species.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert - Extra intelligence via biology will likely require a larger brain. This is not cost free. Humans may have gained an edge by cooking food that reduces the size of the jaw muscles allowing the skull to expand (at least that is one theory). Whether enhanced by sex selection or not, there is always a tradeoff between brain size and other body parts, e.g. length of the gut. So a smart elephant may have advantages, or it may not, being forced to spend more time eating low energy grasses and leaves to feed its brain.

One interesting fact is that human brain to body size has declined since the paleolithic. Whether this is because domestication has made it easier for us to live, or possibly that we have offloaded some of our functions to our tools (e.g. memory to books), I don't know. We know that domestication reduces relative brain size (e.g. domesticated dogs compared to wolves) so maybe uplifting dogs will get them back to wolf brain/body ratio but with different cognitive faculties that are supportable in a domestic environment.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum women do wish for rape, but only in the sense that subjugation (dominance; oppression) is the basis for the mammalian social construct

Your opinion or do you have evidence for this?

Howard Brazee said...

I wonder how an alien race would wish to uplift us.

David Brin said...

I think Alex and I should take a break. He casts stark, simplistic strawmen of my views, then, when I complain that I am only trying to assay the full spectrum, he only doubles down and reiterates the calumny.

There is not a single accusation in your most recent screed, Alex, that contains merit. It is all “Brin thinks” and then trying to stuff into my mouth loads of crap you are entirely making up. You are the one who needs meds.

Locum: “One can therefore conclude that the human social order, by its very nature, is not only unfair & abusive, but probably amoral, which gives humanity the right to dispose of themselves, the other & their environment in any way they see fit, free from the artificial influence of divine morality.”

No, one can “conclude - locum - that this is how YOU think humanity thinks. You are revealing far more about yourself than about us.

David Brin said...

On the plus side, David Crosby (yes the DC of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young) tweeted an answer to “ Could we -- should we -- uplift other species to sapience?”

DC: @DavidBrin absolutely..they will bring a wider world to us ..dolphins are 3d ..we are 2d…for instance...they have much to teach us

Indeed, that is one reason why I suggest uplift should be on the table, and not simplistically dismissed. (And that is ALL I have ever ever ever proposed.)

Expanding circles of inclusion is what our enlightenment does. And so far, every expansion has not only proved to be the right moral choice, but the right PRACTICAL choice, by enriching our culture, ending the waste of talented (women, minorities etc), and bringing into play theretofore unrealized modes of wisdom.

In this, my reflex is the SAME as those who want to give “rights to animals.” With this difference. I want to give other creatures to power to look us in the eye and enforce those rights, the only guarantee that rights have ever truly had.

I have repeatedly avowed that some arguments against Uplift are better-grounded than others. “Hubris” is a valid warning, but we have proved that its worst, Crichtonian penalties are generally neutralized by transparency and fierce criticism. The “animals have their own honor” argument is utterly specious, since each species root stock would remain untouched.

I have openly avowed that the Pain Argument… that even fine ends do not justify hurtful means… is one that I listen to, with respect. Indeed, it is a powerful reason to go about this very slowly and carefully.

I have stated all of that repeatedly, and more, to show that I wish only an open and non pre-judiced discussion. But not one of those aspects were of the slightest interest to Alex or Locum. Only fervid, strawmanning emotion.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

If you give a mouse a human speech gene, she will want some vocal cords so she can use the gene. And if you give a mouse vocal cords, she will need to have lips, so she can enunciate her words. And if you give a mouse lips, well she's going to want to try on some lipstick ...

Sorry, I just had to. It's been a very long time since my kids were young enough, but those kids books get burned into a parent's memory (apologies to the authors of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie").

On a more serious note, what you wrote earlier about being intolerant of intolerant beliefs is an important point to keep in mind. The Colonies which eventually became the United States were composed of a lot of people fleeing religious persecution. Rather than pick a national religion for this fledgling nation, freedom of religion was chosen as a human right, and separation of church and state a foundational policy. But now, centuries removed from the Reformation, the Thirty-Years War and other horrors of religion, people seem to have mostly forgotten why that choice was made. The Texas Department of Education even removed all reference to Thomas Jefferson from the state history standards. The problem is that the religions our legal system is supposed to tolerate are themselves intolerant, almost universally claiming exclusive access to both truth and morality.

It will be awhile before we are in a position to uplift any other species. We are still having great difficulty uplifting ourselves. When the time comes, though, I (or my ghost) will be grateful to debate religion, art, philosophy or any other subject with sapient elephants, crows, dolphins or even reconstructed prehistoric folks. What too few people get (and Darwin tried very hard to explain) is that diversity is strength, not something to be 'tolerated.'

On the subject of strength, I hope you are in good health now, Dr. Brin.

David Brin said...

New posting is up, but we can continue under there. All topics are always welcome... and thick skinned folks with ideas.


Alex Tolley said...

The “animals have their own honor” argument is utterly specious, since each species root stock would remain untouched.

If we can uplift animals, we can also uplift humans. We currently use the term "designer babies:" for our baby steps in this direction, selecting for genes that enhance particularly traits, including intelligence. As with animals, the "root stock" of the human population is untouched. By analogy, creating more intelligent humans (by genetic selection, gene engineering, etc) should be perfectly OK.
And yet there are deep ethical problems regarding this that cannot be dismissed lightly. You cannot do this in the US at present. That may change in te future, but the ethical issues are sufficiently unresolved about doing this today. Therefore this is not a specious argument, IMO.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Now, it happens I agree with your value system and not theirs! In fact, I believe we must CRUSH every worldview that’s incompatible with tolerance and diversity!

If you did not chuckle at that irony, then sorry, you don’t get it. Context & irony

The right-wingers actually use that sort of argument against liberalism.

"You think you're so tolerant, but you are intolerant of the intolerant. What a bunch of hyprocrites!"

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

The underlying assumption is that "uplift" is a positive move.

More like "uplift" is analogous to becoming an adult, with both the priviliges and burdens thereof.

Paul451 said...

[Spamming some replies here, to avoid breaking the new thread]

Re: Fermi via tides.

Two things:

You're not allowing for large moons around gas giants. These would experience tidal effects, and be vastly more common than terrestrial double-planets, judging by exo-planets discovered so far.

And you're not allowing for the fact that there's something like 200 billion stars in the Milkyway galaxy alone. 200,000,000,000. A one-in-a-million chance is currently happening 200,000 times over. A one-in-a-billion chance still leaves 200 cases. And then there's the 10+ billion years of existence of the galaxy. While the early stages of the galaxy would have lacked metals (and perhaps lacked stability/scale according to that GRB model), that still allows viable planets for several billion years before Earth even formed, across the 200 billion stars which existed then too.

Re: Fermi and clouds.

If the culture develops flight, either as soon as possible because they have bird-analogues to inspire them (and judging by bats, pterosaurs, insects, etc, flight is a common evolutionary trope) or merely after technology makes it easy, then the development of flight will eventually allow vehicles which can fly above the clouds. And then fly above the clouds at night...

Re: Fermi and Europa.

We map and drill into the Earth's crust both for resources but also for science. It's hard to image Europans not doing the same with their ice-sheet. And once they break through and find a vacuum (even a soft vacuum), then (after the initial disaster) that vacuum will be industrially useful and exploited widely. And someone will inevitably develop rovers/etc to examine the top-of-the-world. (Imagine having the lunar surface available at the end of a mere mine-shaft. You think we wouldn't explore?) Even moreso, judging by Europa, the ice-sheets have tectonic-like activity. That means active "geology" on the under-side, which means "mountains", "volcanoes", and caves. And caves lend themselves to stories of the mystical lands on the other side, which also prompts exploration. (Just as we reached for the poles, sailed over the horizon, and walked to the heart of every continent.)

The issue with Europa, like water-worlds in general, is the lack of fire, hence metals. However, with undersea volcanism... who knows. The other thing is that the development of intelligence in the ocean seems greatly limited (presumably by the lack of oxygen), with squid/octopuses being the "highest" sea-life when you exclude things that returned from land (mammals/birds). That may be a fundamental limit.

But none of the other things you mention (tides, clouds, ice) seem to exclude life, or intelligence, or a drive to explore space. Not on their own.

Paul451 said...


I expect life will turn out to be fairly common. Pretty much anywhere there's liquid water for long periods (and I'm hoping liquid anything, given Titan.) I expect that multi-cellular life will be less common, say 1 in 10. Complex multi-cellular life (nerves/brains/eyes/etc) will be another 1 in 10. Intelligence (chimp/parrot/dolphin/pig) should be fairly common and inevitable within that group, closer to 1 in 1, but if David is right about the "threshold" effect, then human-level-intelligence will another "filter".

I suspect the rate of aggressive outward thinking species, but sufficiently social/cooperative to make use of their combined abilities, will be fairly high amongst those species which develop human-level-intelligence. I suspect it's a requirement of developing human-level-intelligence. OTOH, developing science-type-values is going to be rare; judging by human history, extremely rare.

Ie, life, intelligence, human-ambition are not filters. But complex life, human-intelligence, and science are. As soon as a planet has life, it will spread every-god-damn-where. Then things will stagnate unless multi-cellular life develops. After that, large complex life of great variety is inevitable, but stagnates at that level unless/until a Cambrian-type burst. After that, chimp/parrot/pig level intelligence is inevitable. But then another stagnation occurs unless/until human level intelligence. Then that sentient species rapidly expands, but won't develop further unless/until they develop science (or some other philosophy/method that produces the same effect of valuing empirical knowledge.) After that, developing advanced technology is fairly inevitable.

Whether there are any choke-points after this, remains to be seen...

Paul451 said...

Re: GRB extinctions.

I think it's also the nature of the radiation. Only a small portion of the sun's output is in gamma rays or in the high energy (relativistic) cosmic rays associated with GRB.

Re: "Invisible tower"

Judging by the size relative to its surroundings, I'd say the "invisible" projection system is just a scam to get approval. A few token attempts, but once built the same system will be used to make the tower as prominent as possible.

[That said, I'm reminded of the Simpson episode where the Stonecutters painted an orphanage a lovely shade of sky blue... oops.)

Re: Uplift
"As with animals, the "root stock" of the human population is untouched. By analogy, creating more intelligent humans (by genetic selection, gene engineering, etc) should be perfectly OK."

Yep. Should be.

"And yet there are deep ethical problems regarding this that cannot be dismissed lightly."

I don't see any, let alone any "deep". I do often see people getting themselves twisted into knots about it, using faux-ethical arguments to justify their emotional reaction (see the "ethical debates" in the '70s over IVF for example, or today over cloning), and I see people (much more reasonably) projecting onto human-modification the poison left by those who deliberately tried to damage the "root stock" by claiming it necessary in order to "preserve" and/or "purify" the "superior" (themselves).

"Do children enjoy discipline? Do convicts desire imprisonment? Do women wish for rape?"

There is a weird mindset at work that associates those three things.

Howard Brazee,
"I wonder how an alien race would wish to uplift us."

It's been suggested that dogs and humans co-uplifted each other. David just mentioned the change to the dominant culture which comes from expanding enlightenment rights to other groups. Uplifting animals will also uplift humans. Ie, chimps, elephants, dolphins, etc, will be the "aliens" who uplift us.

And that may be a good warning sign. If it's not changing us, if it's not making us ask uncomfortable questions about how we used to do things, then we're probably doing it wrong.

Hmmm, I wonder if that is our next plateau? We can't progress further as a species until we have peers from outside our species.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul
Re- the nature of the radiation

That was all in the paper - the reason such "relatively" small amounts of energy were dangerous was the effect on the ozone layer

As I'm not an expert I assumed that they were correct that such a burst would damage the layer
It was the effect of the damage that I was querying

It seems to me that even if I somehow steal the ozone layer from one hemisphere it would not have a disastrous effect on the other hemisphere
And a 20 second burst (a "long" burst) would not damage both hemispheres

Besides if you have ever looked at using UV to sterilize things you begin to see that it's not some magic blowtorch,
It's difficult to kill micro-organisms with UV never big things

Alex Tolley said...


I don't see any, let alone any "deep". I do often see people getting themselves twisted into knots about it, using faux-ethical arguments to justify their emotional reaction

If you are not seeing any discussion about ethical issues about designer babies, then you are not looking. Even the benign (IMO) 3 parent babies (to deal with mitochondial diseases) is controversial (although I don't see why, myself). You may well be correct that the ethics are not "deep", but this has been said of all of philosophy (Marvin Minsky?). The point however, is not the correctness of the ethical decision, but that if ethical issues are raised and acted upon at high level, then the ethical concerns are serious enough that they need to be dealt with, not dismissed by hand waving. I take it you don't agree with the idea of improving the human race by eugenics. Or perhaps that is an incorrect assumption?

"Invisible Tower". I was talking about the approach to invisibility that they use. As you say, who seriously wants their icon invisible. Poor advertising?

Ubiquity of life. We just don't know, either way. One would think panspermia would ensure that both Earth and Mars have/had life while wet. If there are no signs of ancient life on Mars, nor any remaining in the Martian lithosphere, then we need to think again. I'm personally not sanguine about life in the Europan ocean. I'd love to be wrong though. I'm suspicious of any argument that requires Earth-like conditions as a requirement5. The moon as stabilizing tidal influence for example. To me, spectroscopic analysis of planetary atmospheres that should be at Kepler level abundance in 20 years could answer the question about how common life is, fairly decisively if we are lucky. If life is common, then we are back to the Fermi question. One strain in these discussions is that humans will inevitably reach the stars and thus become the ubiquitous presence as suggested by Fermi. I hope so, but I don't see it as a foregone conclusion. It smacks of triumphalism to me, and "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip".

Jumper said...

128Not so long ago I thought that in the future, there would be a chip in people's brains which would answer their questions. I saw it as far off. Now there is Wikipedia. That's a form I didn't see until it was here, and in fact I used Wikipedia for a few years before recalling my decades-old speculation. A few years ago there was a commercial about a desert rat who stumbles into a bar and is informed they have a jukebox which will play any piece of music ever recorded. Now we have YouTube, not a jukebox per se.
Now I wonder if by the time we can do uplift, it will be something different from what we posit now. Likely, or at least possible, will be a method to make any number of intelligent artificial species. Uplift of porpoises will be seen as boutique requests, rare, and more imaginative intelligent creatures - eagles that have the form of a fish or penguin; short necked giraffes the size of dogs, flying cats - more common. And half of their DNA would be from other species. Completely programmed, including the form and gradients the artificial organic womb must take.

muskrat said...

"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." I like that, I like that allot. That is precisely why I am a homesteader. I see it as my duty to raise my children in such a way that they can live entirely self-sufficiently and in accordance with natural selection and balanced to the other populations within their ecosystem.

Like the old misquote attributed to the Iroquois Constitution; "In all your actions and deliberations take the effect of it upon the seventh generation greater than the effect upon your own."

But regardless, I think there is a very good reason human style intelligence doesn't tend to evolve - it doesn't have much survival advantage. I see no benefit to increasing the human style intelligence of other organisms for this reason. In fact, I believe the only reason human intelligence evolved in the first place was not nessessarily because it was beneficial but because it was a type of evolutionary positive feedback loop, like a Fisherian runaway.