Manipulative individuals who endorse the belief that “the ends justify the means” are more likely to endorse technology that allows a person to upload their human consciousness into a machine, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences. The study indicates that there is a strong link between the personality trait known as Machiavellianism and acceptance of mind uploading.
The new findings shed light on how psychological dispositions are related to approval of futuristic technology.
“Through-out my adult life I have been hanging out with individuals who self-identify as transhumanists. These people are interesting, since their values and orientation towards the daily life are so different from others,” explained study author Michael Laakasuo, an adjunct professor of cognitive science at the University of Helsinki and principal investigator of the Moralities of Intelligent Machines research group.
“Many transhumanists are supporters and advocators for mind upload technology and this technology is being developed. Transhumanists have participated in ethical and philosophical discussions on the risks and potential down-sides of this technology. However, moral psychologists and experimental philosophers still have not picked up this baton or investigated what are the individual differences or cognitive processes (if any) that bring in support or resistance towards this technology.”
“Personally, I think mind upload is such a bizarre idea or an ideal, that I think it is important to study how ordinary people feel about it,” Laakasuo said. “This type of technology could (potentially) completely redefine what it means to be human — yet there is practically zero public discussion, politics or interest towards the ethics of creating mind uploaded entities.”
The researchers used the online Prolific Academic platform to survey 1,007 participants regarding their views on mind uploading. The participants also responded to 12 morally ambiguous dilemmas, completed an assessment of dark personality traits, and completed a measure of disgust sensitivity.
Laakasuo and his colleagues found that people with strong utilitarian moral preferences — meaning they tended to seek the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people, even if it meant sacrificing an individual — tended to be more accepting of mind upload technology. Machiavellianism was also strongly associated with approval of mind uploading, even after controlling for utilitarian moral preferences, while psychopathic personality traits were weakly associated with approval of mind uploading.
“This study is not about individuals who self-identify as transhumanists,” Laakasuo told PsyPost. “It is a study consisting of, more or less, a random sample of native English speakers. However, it nonetheless highlights the risk that callous individuals are more approving of this technology than the average person.”
“Most self-identifying transhumanists are probably utilitarians (official studies are lacking) but utilitarianism probably also acts as a cover or a shield for self-serving callous individuals to hide behind. So we will probably see arguments in the future about why mind uploading is good and beneficial, when in fact it could be a few self-serving individuals who wish to attain immortality.”
The Moralities of Intelligent Machines research group has been investigating the moral psychology of technological developments. But the researchers are still unsure why mind uploading is taboo for some but desired by others.
“To this day, we have not found a single all encompassing explanation for why creating uploaded minds is flagged by our cognitive apparatus as morally relevant or morally contentious,” Laakasuo told PsyPost. “In our first paper on the topic, we tried to look at this topic from multiple angles and managed to show, that the disapproval of this technology has something to do with sexual disgust sensitivity. We have repeated this result over and over again, but cannot make heads or tails why on earth does the human mate selection mechanism predict disapproval of mind upload technology.”
“I would urge the moral psychological community (and the scientific community more generally) to pay attention to this topic while we still have the chance to inform public policies regarding this issue,” Laakasuo added. “It could be too late in 15 years and we cannot afford another ‘climate change’ on top of the existing plethora of crisis we are already going through. The time to do this research and to understand what’s going on at the level of moral cognition is now. This technology is coming and it could be the shitstorm of the century. Mouse cortex has already been uploaded, and since technological development is exponential, it is just a matter of time before we have an uploaded dog brain after which chimpanzees and humans follow.”
The study, “The dark path to eternal life: Machiavellianism predicts approval of mind upload technology“, was authored by Michael Laakasuo, Marko Repo, Marianna Drosinou, Anton Berg, Anton Kunnari, Mika Koverola, Teemu Saikkonen, Ivar R. Hannikainen, Aku Visala, and Jukka Sundvall.