Special Ethics Seminar: Nick Bostrom, "Human Enhancement, Status Quo Bias, and the Reversal Test"

Past Event

06 November 2007, 7:30pm

St Cross College
61 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LZ

I will argue, first, that there is prima facie empirical evidence for the prevalence of status quo bias in consequentialist judgments in applied ethics. Second, I will present a heuristic which removes status quo bias if it is present. Third, I will apply the heuristic to the specific case of a hypothetical technology for enhancing cognitive capacity to illustrate how the heuristic works in practice. Doing so will reveal that the case for cognitive enhancement is much stronger than commonly thought. Fourth, I will show how the heuristic can be developed so that it can be applied also to some nonconsequentialist judgments and to other human enhancements. The paper thus has a dual objective: to introduce a significant new methodological tool and to use this tool to argue in favor of the desirability of effective methods for enhancing human cognitive capacities.

Nick Bostrom's research covers issues in the foundations of probability theory, global catastrophic risk, ethics of human enhancement, impacts of future technologies, and related topics.

Nick has more than 130 publications, including papers in Nature, Journal of Philosophy, Ethics, and Mind, one monograph (Routledge), and two forthcoming edited books (OUP). He developed the first mathematically explicit theory of observation selection effects. He is also the originator of the Simulation argument, co-originator of the "Reversal Test", and the author of the paper that introduced the concept of existential risk and of several influential papers on human enhancement. His writings have been translated into 16 languages.

Nick has a background in physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic as well as analytic philosophy. Before moving to Oxford, he taught philosophy at Yale University. Later, he held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. He has worked briefly as an expert consultant for various organizations, including the European Commission in Brussels and for the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington DC. He serves frequently as a commentator in the media, having done several hundred interviews for television, radio, and print media.