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Linda MacDonald Glenn on Singularity 1 on 1: Sentience Matters!

Today I interviewed Prof. Linda MacDonald Glenn on Singularity 1 on 1.

Linda is an American bioethicist, healthcare educator, lecturer, consultant, and attorney-at-law. Her academic research encompasses the legal, ethical, and social impact of emerging technologies and “evolving notions of personhood”.

During our conversation with Prof. Glenn we discuss a variety of topics such as: the very personal and moving story behind her interest in bioethics;  women in technology; human rights versus sentience rights; the legal differences of being human vs being a “person”; the legal test (or lack thereof) for recognizing personhood; the problems of defining and measuring intelligence.

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the adapted video interview in full. There is delay between my own video and audio, which are out of sync, but Linda Glenn’s end is very good so you will not be annoyed by it for 90% of the time.)

Who is Linda MacDonald Glenn?

Linda MacDonald Glenn JD, LLM (Biomedical Ethics, McGill) is a healthcare ethics educator, counselor-at-law, futurist and international consultant. She holds a faculty appointment at the Alden March Bioethics Institute, Albany Medical Center, and is also a Fellow at the Institute for Emerging Technologies and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Her other honors include an appointment as a Senior Fellow at the American Medical Association’s Institute for Ethics, and being named a Women’s Bioethics Scholar. Her research encompasses the legal, ethical, and social impact of emerging healthcare technologies, and evolving notions of legal personhood. She has advised governmental leaders and agencies, published numerous articles in professional journals and books, addressed public and professional groups internationally, and made many media appearances, including the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and NPR. She is currently working on a book titled Bioethics for a New Earth: How Emerging Technologies Can Change Humankind.

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  • Another great interview! Thank you, Prof. MacDonald Glenn and Nikola, for raising some crucial questions about “sentient’s rights.”

    Sentient’s rights questions are particularly interesting to me because I believe (albeit as a sentient) that sentience is the most important- if not the only important- criterion for granting limited or full human or personhood rights. Indeed, even “personhood” is evolving, not only in the legal definition of trans- or augmented humans, but in our moral and ethic considerations of other species as well. Unfortunately, people have a long history of enslaving and subjugating those evolutionarily different from themselves (ethnicity or species differences). Part of my faith in human morality will be restored when captive wild animals are released back into their natural homes and habitats, and the circus and theme park imprisonment and slavery of wild animals becomes illegal.

    Fortunately, the legal definition of the relationship between animal caretakers and their companion animals is evolving from “owns property” to “is guardian.” This is a step in the right direction. “We are all interconnected,” as MacDonald Glenn put it. Humans wouldn’t even exist without the foundation of previously-evolved species. Just because we’ve developed the technology to abuse and torture non-human animals doesn’t mean we should abuse and torture non-human animals (or human animals, for that matter).

    We should recognize our “special duty and responsibility to the other beings that we share this planet with” -MacDonald Glenn. I love that quote, as it illustrates the meaning and implications of the word “share.” Human animals must share their home- the Earth- with non-human animals, who also make their home on Earth. People generally don’t think about the fact that non-human animals evolved to be in harmony with their Earth home long before humans became a blip on the evolutionary timeline. I would suggest that most “human exceptionalists” may not fully comprehend the meaning and implications of “share.”

    I agree that generally, women have historically tended to have a communitarian focus, rather than a self-focus. I believe this is because women carry 100% of the responsibility of gestation and childbirth, and usually carry, on a global historical scale, the overwhelming responsibility of childcare. This reason, coupled with the continued subjugation of women on a global scale, is why women continue to be under-represented.

    I’ll add my vote to increase the attention given to ethics and bio-ethics. I also vote for ratifying the USA’s ERA, but that’s a whole other story!

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