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In the period from August 2004 to July 2005, the Millennium Project conducted a study of emerging global ethical issues and principles by which such issues might be resolved in the future. The scope was global and the time horizon stretched to 2050. More specifically, the purposes of this study were to:
Identify important, novel ethical issues of global scale that might come on the scene within the next 50 years
For all of these, we hoped to identify the similarities and differences in perceptions among the subgroups participating in the study, for example, people from various regions and men and women.
In the first round questionnaire the respondents were given illustrative statements about potential ethical issues and were asked to reword the statements if they thought the statements could be improved. The statements were presented in three time periods: 2005- 2010, 2010- 2025, and 2025-2050. The respondents were also asked to add similar issues in all three time periods that seemed significant and new. In addition, in an open-ended question, respondents were asked to provide statements of principles by which such issues might be resolved in the future (the Golden Rule is an example).
The volume of the responses to the Round 1 questionnaire was almost overwhelming; suggestions for over 1,200 ethical issues were received from about 200 respondents.
The second round 2 was crafted on the basis of the Round 1 responses. As before, it had two major components: the first dealt with the issues and the second the principles for resolution. A small subset of key issues was selected from and respondents were asked to judge the relative importance and chances for resolution of these issues. In the second portion, some resolution principles from Round 1 were listed and respondents were asked to judge how widely these principles are accepted today and might be accepted in the future.
The questionnaires were translated into several languages and were made available in hard copy and on-line: English online, Portuguese MS Word, English MS Word, Russian MS Word, Chinese MS Word, Spanish on line, French MS Word and Spanish MS Word.
Indicative of the wide interest in this work, over 300 Round 2 responses were received. In both rounds, Europe and Latin American respondents contributed about 30% of the total responses each; North American and Asian/ South Pacific respondents each comprised about 20% of the sample. Contributions from academics ran about 25% of the total in both rounds, followed by NGO’s, independent consultants, government employees, and corporate employees, who provided between 13 and 15% each.
1. Editing. Some respondents were succinct in their suggestions; others were expansive. In editing we attempted to capture the essence of the longer responses in shorter phrases, and in addition to remove ambiguities that make have occurred in translation
2. Filtering. While most of the responses were of the sort we sought, there were some that fell into categories that were outside of our immediate interest. We sought the to identify ethical issues of global dimension, that were really new, had some new aspect of an existing problem or were likely to grow in magnitude in the years ahead, or were likely to have deep impact and be of broad interest. In all some 874 items of the 1,221 suggestions were used in the study.
3. Grouping. We studied the post-filter suggestions as a set and asked ourselves what principal themes were contained in answer to the open ended question we asked about future ethical issues. We found that the 874 suggestions could be grouped into the following themes:
The issues were sorted into domains; those domains that received an increasing number of suggestions over time were: brain, new frontiers, space, death, birth, the environment, and philosophy. Those domains that received a diminishing number of suggestions over time were crime, education, corporate/economy, political, and media
What ethical rules should guide intervention of a person, corporation, or nation into the affairs of others?
Should machines have rights and what ethical issues are involved in the interactions between humans and technology?
Is it ethical for people, corporations, or nations to create future problems or uncertainties by current actions, even if well intended?
Is it ethical to detain people or interfere with their lives on the basis of expectations about their future actions?
What is the ethical trade-offs between human rights and the need for national security, particularly preservation of privacy and freedom from search?
In the end, some 31 items were selected for further study in Round 2. This sele3ction was based on a number of factors including the frequency with which the items or similar items appeared, the ability of the item to open important discussions about global ethics, scope- that is the number of people likely to be affected by the issue, severity- that is the depth of the affect of the issue, and novelty. These were:
Is it right to allow people and organizations to pollute if they pay a fee or engage in pollution trading?
What is the ethical way to intervene in the affairs of a country that is significantly endangering its or other people?
Should religions give up the claim of certainty and/or superiority to reduce religion-related conflicts?
Should national sovereignty and cultural differences be allowed to prevent international intervention designed to stop widespread violence perpetrated by men against women?
Should there be two standards for intellectual, athletic, musical, and other forms of competition: one for the un-augmented and another for those whose performance has been enhanced by drugs, bionics, genetic engineering, and/or nanobots?
Do we have the right to alter our genetic germ line so that future generations cannot inherit the potential for genetically related diseases or disabilities?
As the brain-machine interface becomes more sophisticated and global, do the demands of collective intelligence outweigh those associated with individual identity?
Would the advent of global ethical norms unduly constrain the differences among groups or the evolution of values?
To what degree should the rights and interests of future generations prevail in decisions of this generation?
Do we have the right to genetically change ourselves and future generations into a new or several new species?
Is it ethical for society to manage the creation of future elites who have augmented themselves with artificial intelligence and genetic engineering?
Is it right for humans to merge with technology, as one way to prevent technological hegemony over humanity?
With accelerating advances in psychoactive drugs and virtual reality, should there be limits to the pursuit of happiness?
Is it right to pursue research that will result in the creation of intelligent technological “beings” that will have the capacity to compete with humans or other biological life forms for an ecological niche?
Should artificial life (life-mimicking software, sentient robots, etc.) or animals whose intelligence has been increased to near human levels, have rights?
Considering the economic and other consequences of an aging population, should we have the right to suicide and euthanasia?
Do we have a right to genetically interfere with newborns or embryos because their genetic code shows a high probability for future violent behavior?
In Round 1, the panelists also suggested some 260 principles for the resolution of ethical issues. A subset of principles was selected for further exploration in the second round on the on basis that certain items were suggested by multiple respondents; in addition principles were drawn from the various categories, and seemed to represent ideas that particularly appropriate for further consideration. These were (with sub divisions that were later used in the Round 2 analysis):
Collective considerations should prevail over individual well-being; make decisions that bring the most good to the most people.
Any artificial form of life intelligent enough to request rights should be given these rights and be treated with the same respect as humans.
Science and technology should serve society, rather than be just a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.
In Round 2, respondents were asked to provide their judgments about the significance of each issue (5= most important, 1= least) and resolution difficulty (5= most difficult, 1= least). Their judgments about the most important issues are summarized in the following tables: