Five weird thought experiments to break your brain

Thought expriments are great tools, but do they always do what we want them to?

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  • Thought experiments are quite popular, though some get more time in the sun than others.
  • While they are supposed to help guide our intuition to help solve difficult problems, some are a bit removed from reality.
  • Can we trust the intuitions we have about problems set in sci-fi worlds or that postulate impossible monsters?
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Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

Could you become a 'natural' blonde by altering your genes?

Exploring how a small change in your DNA sequence can make you a natural blonde.

A few weeks after preparing them, Dr Catherine Guenther checked her mouse embryos and knew that she had identified the source of a blond-haired mutation in human DNA.

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The plasma debate: The ethics of paying for human blood

Should pharmaceutical companies pay people for their plasma? Here's why paid plasma is a hot ethical issue.

  • Human blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Plasma is the liquid part of blood. It is used to treat rare blood conditions and has an increasing number of medical applications.
  • It is a $26 billion industry, and the US is a major exporter of plasma to other nations. Most nations do not collect enough plasma to sustain therapies for their own citizens. The US has such a large supply of plasma because it pays people to donate plasma—a controversial practice.
  • Is it ethical for people to be paid for their plasma? Here, Peter Jaworski, an ethics scholar, explains five key arguments people make against paying people for plasma—safety, security, altruism, commodification, and exploitation—and explains his views on them. What do you think?
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Whose limb is it anyway? On the ethics of body-part disposal

Those who have experienced amputations often wonder what happened to their limb after surgery.

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash
Our limbs can be a crucial part of our sense of self and identity, so amputation is often traumatic to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of patients.
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