Research seminar: Living with the Tyrell Corporation - Moral status in a future of new intelligent life

As part of IDEA's 2020-21 research seminar series, we welcome David Lawrence to discuss the ethics of future forms of life and their likely positions and values in law and society.


“A world of ‘posthumans’, synthetic human embryos, perhaps even thinking artificial intelligences (AI) is almost inevitable. A vast range of technologies, including genomics, synthetic biology, advanced pharmaceuticals, neurotechnologies, and breakthroughs in computer science and artificial intelligence research promise to create new forms of sentient, even sapient intelligent life in the not-too-distant future; and perhaps change our understanding of life itself.

These types of technology promise significant effects on our way of living, of working, and of interacting with others- perhaps even as significant as in the science fiction worlds they were once relegated to. 

This session will discuss the need for, and difficulties I am finding in attempting,  the design of a hierarchical framework for recognising degrees of moral status in various existing and possible future forms of life, both intelligent and not. My research for several years has revolved around ’novel beings’ and their likely position in law and society, and it has become increasingly clear that the present ad hoc means by which we assign creatures moral status are no longer fit for purpose, relying as they do on assumptions, intuitions, and anthropocentrism. Increasing numbers of rights cases brought on behalf of great apes and other animals indicate that the system isn’t working for existing animals either. If moral status dictates protections and obligations, then it seems we ought to have a serious discussion about the ways in which we evaluate who gets what.”

Find out more about David Lawrence, University of Edinburgh.

Watch the seminar

The full seminar is now available to watch on-demand online.

Please see our 2020-21 schedule for more upcoming research seminars.

This research seminar series of webinars is curated by Dr Andrew Kirton.