Evolution and Neuroethics in the Hyperion Cantos

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In this article, I use science-fiction scenarios drawn from Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion Cantos” (Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion) to explore a cluster of issues related to the evolutionary history and neural bases of human moral cognition, and the moral desirability of improving our ability to make moral decisions by techniques of neuroengineering. I begin by sketching a picture of what recent research can teach us about the character of human moral psychology, with a particular emphasis on highlighting the importance of our evolutionary background as social mammals. I then consider how the moral psychology of intelligent machines might differ from our own, and argue that the differences would depend on the extent to which their evolutionary background resembled our own. I offer two very different case studies—the “Technocore AIs” that have evolved from early, parasitic computer programs, and the mysterious “Shrike,” who travels backward through time. I close by looking at the character of Aenea, a messianic figure that is a joint descendant of humans and machines. I argue that while the sort of “moral enhancement” she represents is far beyond the scope of either contemporary neuroscience or artificial intelligence research, it nevertheless represents a worthwhile goal.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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