« Finally Home | Main | In Memorium »


fruiticeutical.jpgAn offhand comment at the Institute for the Future workshop yesterday sent me spiraling off in a new direction. Tom Arnold, Chief Environmental Officer of Terrapass, made reference to "CMOs," and I didn't catch the particular context of that abbreviation (he meant "Chief Marketing Officers," as it turned out). But divorced of its intended meaning, the term "CMO" took on a new definition:

Cognitively Modified Organism

Much to my surprise, nobody has used that term before (at least nobody that Google knows about, and that's all that counts these days). But it's a term with a clear application, most probably used to refer to living beings with intentionally-altered mental (and emotional) characteristics. In this usage, a cognitively modified organism, or CMO, has had its brain wiring altered in an essentially permanent way to induce a particular behavior or mental state -- a hardwired version of Pavlov's Dogs. It could also refer to organisms modified in a way to induce mental/emotional changes when consumed, such as with the fruiticeutical as imagined by IFTF's Jason Tester.

We already live in a world in which we know enough about brain chemistry and behavior to be able to make fairly replicable modifications via drugs; as we learn more about the genetics underlying brain chemistry, we'll be able to experiment with the concept of making more-or-less permanent modifications to behavior in these ways. It won't happen to human beings right off the bat, of course -- we'll be monkeying around with the brains of non-human animals first. We'll probably even find useful results from the ongoing manipulation of non-human animal behavior through the modification of cognitive structures and chemistry.

If we're lucky, it will only go as far as needed to perform useful neurotherapies. If we're less lucky, we'll find these technologies as the near future equivalent of steroids, superficially therapeutic systems used for clumsy augmentation. If we're entirely unlucky, this will be a dangerous new tool for advertising and marketing -- memetics with teeth, as it were.

Oops, there was the bell! Time for dinner.


liver flukes and toxoplasmosis

Although those would be more like "cognition-modifying organisms," no?

While I've never heard the term 'cognitively modified organism' before, the idea has been around for a while and is already being discussed by some bioethicists, including Princeton's Peter Singer.

Singer and Jim Mason recently published a book titled, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, in which they argue that farm animals should be neuroengineered to alter their instinctual tendencies and to alleviate suffering.

Personally, I am unsure about this idea. The suggestion that the psychologies of farm animals be adjusted to reduce their subjective sense of suffering is off putting, mostly because it would do nothing to improve our relationship with animals, nor would it result in more humane farming practices. While I can understand why Singer and Mason would push for such an 'improvement' (it's a real and hard fix, after all), and while I run the risk of posing a slippery slope argument, I think such a strategy could open a Pandora's Box of potential problems that could extend outward to other non-human animals and even humans themselves. Moreover, such a strategy would do nothing to alleviate the negative environmental impacts of factory farming.

As a short-term solution, perhaps this is a good idea to help reduce suffering, but I certainly don’t think this should be considered a permanent fixture of livestock.

On a related note, there is the transgenics issue and the development of the so-called chimera or sub-human. Like the farm animal issue, this is also an area for concern. As I noted in my recent animal uplift paper, “All Together Now:”

“Animals may also be engineered to have specialized physical or cognitive characteristics while lacking certain neurological faculties. Theoretically, such creatures could be designed for specific tasks, such as manual labour, dangerous work, or as sex trade workers--and at the same time be oblivious to the demeaning or hazardous nature of their work. For all intents and purposes these would be happy slaves.”

“This is a repugnant possibility and an affront to humanitarian values. Interventions designed to deliberately constrain a sentient organism such that it is incapable of empowered participation in the broader social community is grossly unethical and should be considered illegal. The ultimate goal of animal uplift is the creation of equal social partners and not a species to be subjugated.”



Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37