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6.4. Gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots: Changing the notion of "human" and "us"

- Tsuyoshi Awaya, Ph.D.
Professor of Medical Law and Bioethics,
Department of Legal Medicine and Bioethics,
Graduate School of Medicine and Dentistry,
Okayama University 2-5-1, Shikata-cho,
Okayama, Japan 700-8525

1. Introduction

"Are you human?" Usually such a question need not be asked except when doing so metaphorically. Why is this so? It is because it was not necessary originally. At the present time, the distinction between humans and animals is easy. Distinguishing between humans and robots is also easy. Who is human is obvious at a glance.

Whether a life form (or something similar) is 'human' or not is important because, at the present time, to be 'human' is a necessary and sufficient condition in order to receive the ethical, legal, and social protections of our society, in other words, in order to enter 'our' circle of coexistence and co-prosperity. In particular from a legal viewpoint, to be human is a necessary condition in order to be "eligible for rights and duties" (qualification by law to have rights and to bear duties), namely to be a "subject of rights." Of course, rights here include human rights. The judgment whether a life form (or something similar) is 'human' or not is not a purely biological judgment but rather a social judgment based on biological facts, for example, whether a life form has human genes or not.

2. Human Merkmal

What on earth, then, is human? What is the Merkmal for 'human' that humankind has as its common recognition? It seems, at the moment, that it is both a human brain (cerebrum) and a 'human appearance.' The latter refers to the body by which other people think a life form (or something similar) is 'humanlike.' If so, though it may sound like a science fiction, what kind of answer should be prepared for the question: whether a living human brain in artificial nutrition liquid is human or not? The answer is that the brain is not human as an individual because such a brain does not have a human appearance. Such a brain is one part of a human just as an arm that is separated from the body.

Therefore, it seems that though a body is completely mechanized, it is human, strictly speaking, a "cyborgized" human, if it has a human brain and a human appearance by means of artificial skin. However, if either element is lacking, it seems that it is not human. That is to say, even though a life for m (or something similar) may have a human brain, it is not human any longer if it loses its human appearance by cyborgization, chimeratization, or hybridization. So, it seems that the leading character in the science fiction movie "Robocop" are not human. And even though a life form (or something similar) has a human appearance, it is not human if the nucleus controlling the body is a machine or computer. It is indeed a robot.

As a side question, along the lines of science fiction, what are the beings that result from exchanging a dog brain and a human brain (1)? If both a human brain and human appearance are human Merkmals, then neither a dog with a transplanted human brain (= human brain with a dog's body) nor a human with a transplanted dog's brain (=dog's brain with a human body) is human.

3. Can animals and humanoid robots enter the circle of coexistence and co-prosperity?

Judging from the above, neither animals nor humanoid robots are human even if their intelligence and feeling (or something similar) are highly developed or if their appearance is human-like. Therefore, they do not enter the circle of our coexistence and co-prosperity at least at the moment. In particular, from a legal viewpoint, they do not have "eligibility for rights and duties." Both animals and humanoid robots are legally not the subject of rights but the object of rights, namely things (2).

Even if a driver hits an animal or a robot by car, the animal or robot has no right to compensation for damage from him or her. In other words, the driver has no duty towards the animal or robot for damages. However, if there exists an owner of the animal or robot, the driver has to compensate for the damage to the owner according to the circumstances. In addition, the driver is not charged with causing death or bodily injury through professional negligence. Of course, the charge of murder or of inflicting injuries is never applied. However, for example in Japan, violation of the "Law of Animal Protection and Management" may be claimed according to the circumstances. Furthermore, if there is intention, the charge of damage to property may be applied according to the circumstances.

By the way, it is said that many kinds of mammals have rich feelings. For a familiar example, dogs are said to have this quality. It is easy for us to understand that dogs have rich feelings if we keep them as pets. In addition, it is said that some kinds of primates have considerable intelligence. It is said that a Bonobo (Pygmy chimpanzee) has intelligence to the same degree as a 2.5-year-old human infant in its ability to understand language (3). The matter mentioned above applies to all of these animals.

Furthermore, as for some kinds of animals, upgrading from "pet" to "companion animal" has begun. Some people are treating animals as a member of the family. And animals are even sex partners for some people. Here also, the matter mentioned above applies to all of these animals.

4. The appearance of gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots

What will happen, then, when gene-enhanced animals or high-efficiency humanoid robots with high intelligence and feelings (or something similar) equal to or more than humans appear in the future? Current gene technology has the possibility of producing such gene-enhanced animals as mentioned below. And current computer technology and robot technology really have the potential to produce such humanoid robots.

(1) The appearance of gene-enhanced animals
It is natural that there is a need for gene-enhanced animals. There are many people who think that animals would be more useful to humans if they become a little smarter. The science fiction movie "Planet of the Apes (new)" has a scene where a gene-enhanced chimpanzee performs space exploration instead of humans. There are some people who think their pet is more important than an ill-natured next-door neighbor and how nicely their pet speaks. In America, the popular cartoon where a talking dog, named Scooby Doo, plays an active role has been broadcasted for over 20 years.

In a questionnaire in Japan asking, "What do you want to be materialized now?" a talking dog came in second place among four answers (4). In this connection, when I searched "dog which speaks" with Internet search engine "GOOGLE," 522 cases were listed. And 521 cases were listed for "cat, which speaks" (October 24, 2002). In addition, in Japan, a dog-type communication robot "HUMAN DOG (5)" which can speak 20000 human words, especially in the Kansai dialect of Japanese, is popular. I think that there is sufficient need for gene-enhanced animals. But we have no technology that enables animals to speak at the moment. However, the genetically engineered smart mouse "Doogie" which cannot speak but has a high ability of learning and memory compared with a natural mouse produced in 1999 (6).

So far, many kinds of gene level remodeling (it's difficult to call it "enhancement") of life forms have been performed. For example, there are retroviruses with a human gene introduced into them for gene therapy, colon bacillus with human genes introduced into it for the production of bio-medical supplies (for example, insulin, somatotropin, interferon), mice with human genes introduced into them for medical experiments, sheep, goats, and cows with human genes introduced into them as Animal Pharm (7)" for the production of medical supplies, pigs for organ transplantation, etc.

Furthermore, the improvement of animal breeds, not by genetic engineering, as been performed since ancient times. The domestic pigs came from the wild boar. Pigs on farms used to be just as ferocious as wild boars, and sometimes killed people. In mediaeval Europe, these animals were tried in court and condemned to death (8). The nature of pigs was gradually changed to that of our present day docile porkers through the science of selective breeding. By the way, Michael Reiss and Roger Straughan predict the arrival of a time when organisms are transformed broadly due to genetic engineering (9).

(2) The appearance of high-efficiency humanoid robots
Currently the development of humanoid robots is making progress. Though it goes without saying that robots with a single function and pet robots are useful to humans, I leave this aside. The need for high-efficiency humanoid robots is greater than for gene-enhanced animals. Primitive humanoid robots have been made in Japan in the past. Now in particular, high-efficiency humanoid robots are the heart-throb for Japanese people. Exhibitions of the Honda humanoid robot are a great success. On the future production line of this Honda humanoid robot, there is a high-efficiency humanoid robot, which has the appearance of a human, and intelligence and feeling (something similar) equal to or more than humans. There is a considerable possibility that they will appear in the future.

Prof. Hans Moravec, an AI researcher at Carnegie Melon University (USA), who is called the emperor of robots, says that the intelligence of a current robot is at insect level, but the performance of a computer will increase 1 million times in the next 30 years, and the intelligence of a robot will be at ape level in 2030, after that, it will become equal to the intelligence of humans in the year 2040 (10). And Prof. Rodney Brooks, robot scientist, at California University (USA) says that once humans discarded the notion that the earth was the center of the universe, and at the time of Darwin, humans discarded the notion that we are fundamentally different from animals, and now humans have to discard the notion that the life form (or something similar) which has the highest intelligence on the earth is human (11).

By the way, can we not love humanoid robots because they are not humans even though they have a human appearance? I, at least, don't think that I cannot love a female robot only for the reason that the contents of the robot are machines. The love between a male and a female should be possible between humans and robots." Originally the target of love is not limited to humans. There are many people who love their pets. There are people who love robot pets, cars, diamonds, etc. As for the love between humanoid robots and humans, the science fiction movies "Blade Runner," "Andrew NDR114," "A. I.," etc. is suggestive.

(3) Human remodeling due to technologies
Recently, human remodeling (cyborgization, gene enhancement, chimeratization, and hybridization) due to technologies, including robot technology, gene technology, etc., is making progress rapidly. In addition, brain remodeling comes into view. Human remodeling is one of the integrated points of modern technologies. This human remodeling raises an issue: To what extent is replacing human body parts with animal's body parts or machine parts acceptable? This is an issue of the ethical and social limitations of human remodeling (12). And related to this issue an additional question is raised, that is: "Does a human lose human identity (become nonhuman) when to what extent human body parts, including the brain, are replaced with animal's body parts or machine parts?"

Regarding the terminal point of human remodeling, the above mentioned Prof. Hans Moravec states that humans will approach the form of robots, i.e. they will become cyborgs, and robots will approach the form of humans, and in the end, the distinction between humans and robots will disappear (13).

5. Conclusion

As I mentioned above, there is a possibility that gene-enhanced animals or high-efficiency humanoid robots with high intelligence and feelings (or something similar) equal to or more than humans appear in reality. Initially, humankind can choose not to allow the appearance of gene-enhanced animals or high-efficiency humanoid robots, keeping in mind their potential danger.

About robots in particular, if the future world emerges, where like a science fiction movie, high-efficiency humanoid robots control humans, it will be awful. For example, the science fiction movie "Terminator 2" depicts a future world where humans resist robots' dominance desperately. Though I cannot judge whether it is a joke or whether he's serious, the above mentioned Prof. Hans Moravec states that by the year 2050, humans will have the same value as senile poodle and will be humiliated by almighty robots which humans create (14).

But so far, humans are not likely to choose not to allow the appearance of gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots. As I mentioned above, high-efficiency humanoid robots in particular, are the heart-throb for people. Then what will happen if humankind will allow the appearance of gene-enhanced animals or high-efficiency humanoid robots? As far as we allow it, the choice of humans not to treat those gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots as human or as equal to human for the reason that they are not human biologically will become impossible.

That is to say, the need to give rights as humans or the same rights as humans to some animals and robots, which satisfied certain conditions, will come out. In other words, it will become impossible for humankind to continue keeping them out of the circle of coexistence and co-prosperity (15). In terms of the method by which to bring about such a result, humankind will have two options. One is a change in the notion of 'human.' Another is the re-setting of the circle of coexistence and co-prosperity.

Going into the details, the former is the idea that, expanding the notion of human, a life form (or something similar) that has intelligence, whether explicitly or potentially, is human. If we do so, the result is that gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots that satisfied certain conditions enter the category of human, that is, they are human. In order to get that result, legislation is needed that a life form (or something similar) that has intelligence is human. They will have rights as human by doing so.

The latter is the idea that gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots do not enter the category of human, but rather humans re-set the circle of coexistence and co-prosperity so that some of them that satisfied certain conditions enter the circle. In order to do so, legislation is needed that humans treat gene-enhanced animals and high-efficiency humanoid robots that satisfied certain conditions as the same as human, i.e. that they have the same rights as humans, though they are not human.

Finally, the following is a conversation in the future while traveling (in the case where the latter was selected). "Are you a human?" "Yes." "In reality, I am a human, too." "What a coincidence! Recently it is difficult to see a human."


(1) Regarding the replacement of the brain, it is said that it is not technically impossible to replace the brain in the skull by operation (Kawamura, H., "Is it possible to replace a brain? (Japanese) ," Kioritz publication, 1988, p.121). Here it seems that the capacity of the skull will be a problem. Connected with this, the experiment that exchanges the heads of two monkeys has already performed. They lived for five days in a state of general paralysis ("Ethics of an American medical scientist who is challenging the living brain transplant, (Japanese)," VIEWS Vol.2, No.3, 1992, pp.51-56 and White R. et al., "The Isolation and Transplantation of the Brain: An Historical Perspective Emphasizing the Surgical Solutions to the Design of These Classical Models," Neurological Research, Vol.18, No. 3, 1996, pp.194-203 [review article]).
(2) However, regarding animals, German civil law article 90a does not describe animals as a thing but describes them as "the same kind as human (Mitgeschopfe)."
(3) Savage-Rumbaugh, S., "Kanji: Genius Ape which has language, (Japanese)," NHK Publishers, 1993. p.9.
(4) "Ms. Saotome's feeling of excitement that the future world becomes reality, (Japanese), " in Internet homepage "Sony Style"
( By the way, the result of the questionnaire (with the four answers offered beforehand) is as follows: the first place went to "Hawaii for 30 minutes" (520 votes, 53.3%), the second place went to "dog which speaks" (237 votes, 24.3%), the third place went to "movie which has smell" (109 votes, 11.2%), the fourth place went to "personal computer which can be put inside ear" (109 votes, 11.2%).
(5) See, (Japanese)
(6) Tang, Y. et al., "Genetic Enhancement of Learning and Memory in Mice," Nature, Sept. 2, 1999, pp. 63-69; Lemonick, M., "Smart Genes?," Time, Sept. 13, 1999, pp.44-48; Ikuta, T., "Reproduction Revolution, (Japanese)," Tokyo Shoseki, 2000, pp.218-232.
(7) "Animal Pharm" means utilization of animals, especially domestic animals such as a sheep, goat, cow, etc., as a factory for production of medical supplies, or to be precise, useful human protein. Concretely speaking, Animal Pharm uses a system in which human genes that make a specified protein are introduced into an animal's fertilized egg, and that protein, which is used as medical supplies, is secreted in the milk or blood of grown animals and collected.
(8) Ikegami, T., "Animal Trial, (Japanese)," Kodansha, 1990.
(9) Michael Reiss and Roger Straughan, "Improving Nature? The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering, "Cambridge University Press, 1996.
(10) "Intelligence of robots will be equal to human intelligence in the year 2040, (Japanese)," interview, Nihon Keizai Newspaper, October 9, 2000. Incidentally, the professor predicts that "Super Intelligence Robots" exceeding human intelligence by far will appear after the intelligence of robots becomes equal to human intelligence (Peter Catalano, "Emperor of Robot: World of Hans Moravec, (Japanese)," interview, in zawa Science Office, ed., "Science Hypothesis," Gakken, 1998, pp.58-73).
(11) Interview in "Coexistence with Robots (Invitation to Future Science, No. 2), (Japanese), "1998, NHK TV [BBC selection].
(12) As for this issue, see Awaya, T., "High Medical Technology and Bioethics: Human Remodeling due to Technologies and the Ethical and Social Limitations, (Japanese), " Education and Medicine, Vol.50, No.11, 2002, pp. 845-851.
(13) Interview in "Coexistence with Robots (Invitation to Future Science, No. 2), (Japanese), "1998, NHK TV [BBC selection]. However, see the text corresponding to note (13) on the Professor's opinion.
(14) Peter Catalano, "Introspective Trip to the Future with Moravec, (Japanese), "interview, in Yazawa Science Office, ed., "Science Hypothesis," Gakken, 1998, pp.74-77.
(15) Now people called animal rights advocates exist. In the future, people called robot rights advocates may appear, when high-efficiency humanoid robots which look like human appear. They will ask why humanoid robots should be content with the position of the human's slave. As for robot rights, Shinichi Hoshi described the process in which humans necessarily give rights little by little to humanoid robots in his science fiction work ("Confusion of the Transition Period, (Japanese),"in his "Various Mazes," Shincho-bunko, 1983 (1972) pp.88-101). In addition, conversely, in the science fiction movie "Total Recall 2070" (by Michael Easton), the proposition that a human rights activist tries to protect human labor rights against the robots' advance to the human workplace is pictured . Here "human rights" will not be given to robot, and those are insisted on in order to oppose robots.

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