Do Robots Make Love? From AI To Immortality by Laurent Alexandre and Jean-Michel Besnier

The Blurb On The Back:

Discover the incredible potential of mankind’s near future, as a doctor and a philosopher debate the big questions surrounding trans humanism – the tech movement that seeks to improve the human condition through science.

Transhumanism has fast become one of the most controversial subjects the scientific community has ever faced.  As scientists in California make great strides in using advanced technology to enhance human intellect and physiology, the ethical and moral questions surrounding its possibilities have never been more pressing.

– should we change the way we reproduce?

– could we enhance the human body with technology to the point where we are all technically cyborgs?

– does anyone really want to live for a thousand years?

– is it possible to make love to a robot?

Through 12 thought-provoking questions, doctor and entrepreneur Laurent Alexandre and tech-philosopher Jean-Michel Besnier go head to head in a captivating and entertaining debate about the fundamental and real-world ramifications of transhumanism. 

You can order Do Robots Make Love? From AI To Immortality by Laurent Alexandre and Jean-Michel Besnier from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Laurent Alexandre is a surgeon and entrepreneur with an interest in the trans humanism.  Jean-Michel Besnier is Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne University and a critic of transhuman utopias.  This is a pretentious and yet weirdly superficial look at trans humanism, constructed as a dialogue between the authors and based around 12 questions that left me with little sense of what it was about or what the actual risks/benefits are.

I picked this book up because I’d read a few articles on experiments that are on-going with technology (including robotic limbs that can be controlled by the brain) and thought that this would be an interesting review of the technology and the potential ethical and philosophical issues with it.  This book does not do that.  It’s supposed to deal with NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science) and how it relates to modifying human beings and the ethical consequences of the same.  However there is precious little detail on how this technology could work with the authors preferring to make sweeping assertions on where it could go (including implants of chips and nanobots or genetic manipulation), some of which seems to be inspired by films like Gattaca and Her rather than actual developments.  In fact, all of the ethical arguments examine extremes with the authors having a peculiar focus on using cybernetic augmentation to live forever and assume that this is the end game without any consideration of whether people would want that.

There is no real consideration of the role that money would play in take up of technology and trans humanist technology (although the authors do have a brief discussion about how it could increase inequality in society).  The authors talk about how genetic selection has impacted on the number of children born with Down syndrome with both authors decrying the moral ramifications and yet neither considering for a single moment the impact that having a child with Down’s has on the parents (both financial and emotional) and how this usually falls to women.  In fact all of the discussion about reproduction and genetics utterly fails to take into account the impact on women, which shouldn’t be surprising when this is basically two men talking and yet remains depressing.  

There is a section where the authors skirt around the potential impact of data harvesting in medical technology and where this could go, but they don’t dwell on it in anything that’s remotely meaningful, which I found to be a missed opportunity.  Most frustratingly, both authors seem to consider any kind of augmentation as leading down the trans humanist route but there’s a difference between a paraplegic person using an exoskeleton as a tool to assist in their day-to-day life and a healthy person using it as a way to improve their bench lift capacity.  Also neither author distinguishes between what an augmentation is – would a pacemaker  fall under this or does the technology need to be more sophisticated?  It simply isn’t really clear from within the book.

The style of writing is incredibly pretentious.  Both men talk sweepingly about philosophers without troubling themselves to explain any of it to the reader and there are times when it feels a little like you’re eavesdropping on two bar bores wanging on over a bottle of plonk.  The 12 questions are:

– should the human race be improved?

– will the human race have to change the way it reproduces?

– can technology fix everything?

– will we all be cyborgs tomorrow?

– can you make love with a robot?

– do we want to live to a thousand?

– is transhumanism just another kind of eugenics?

– is artificial intelligence going to kill of mankind?

– what is at stake economically?

– do we need to pass some laws?

– have we anything to fear from a “brave new world”?

– how far should our research go?

I’m not someone who usually dunks on books – even if a book wasn’t for me, I usually try to find something to say in its favour, but I really didn’t enjoy this, mainly because I just didn’t feel like I’d learned anything from it.  On that basis, I really can’t recommend this book because it’s so far up its own backside it’s about as much fun as a colonoscopy. 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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