Uplifting is a concept in which an advanced civilization lifts up another species via brain- or body enhancements to make it possible for them to create their own civilization. We want to look on the moral implications of uplifting and if we should do it, when we are able to do it.
So far, we know only one animal that was able to form a civilization – we, Homo sapiens. As long as we are not making open contact with another extraterrestrial civilization, we need to think what this means in relationship with other species on our home world as well as with potential alien species on other planets. We are focusing here one the alien equivalent of chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and octopuses, not on highly developed other civilizations. The question we will deal with is: should we (if we have the technical means) try to uplift an animal species so far that they are able to form a civilization? Is Uplifting a reasonable alternative for us, or do we need to fear “Planet of the Apes”?
Did we get lucky?
We as Homo sapiens might be quiet fortunate that we were able to create a civilization. We inherited highly functional hands, we live in an environment where we were able to use fire-based technologies, and we have close bonds with our next generation, allowing the transfer of knowledge. In addition, we seem to live on a planet that is blessed with a lot of water, but not too much, a thick, protective atmosphere and our buddies Jupiter and Moon that take a lot of cosmic waste that was meant for us. Nevertheless, what about other less-fortunate species that out of the problematic nature of nature that is focused mostly on coincidence in its progress are stranded in an evolutionary point where they are unable to proceed? Should we give them brain-implants, change some of their behavior, or give them technological means that allow them to form a new civilization?
Some people will now object and say: but that is playing God and we should limit ourselves to our place. I would answer to those people: yes, we would play God, but we will try to a nice, benevolent one. We are killing billions of animals every year for our food-production; we make sure they are born, for the sole purpose of killing and eating them. But it is unmoral to try to help an animal to become more intelligent to cooperate with them? And this pretty much sums up my point of view on this topic. The development of life doesn’t necessarily lead to the point of one or several species being able to form civilizations, so why shouldn’t we, as outcome of this process try to speed things up a bit. Shouldn’t we help chimpanzees, dolphins and octopus to form their own civilization. Please recognize that I don’t say, “becoming intelligent species”, because intelligence is a gradual process and many animals are intelligent on various levels and some humans have also problems with that issue. However no animal that we know was able to form a civilization and therefor live outside its natural habitat, create technologies, harvest energy and transfer knowledge from generation to generation.
I can imagine that such a process could also be beneficial for our own species because if we would live together with another species that is equal in its intelligence, culture and technological understanding to us it could make us less arrogant. Such a new civilization could also develop viewpoint that enrich our understanding, because they were achieved from a completely different perspective. What would be the take of the octopus civilization on the big questions that we could never answer?
The moral aspects
In the whole topic of uplifting, we need to answer several questions (but we are in no hurry, since uplifting other species might take hundreds or even thousands of years). Do we uplift the whole species? Probably not, but what will the uplifted dolphins think of their cousins that are still relatively stupid (in comparison to them)? Will they demand that they are uplifted too, or will they be hostile towards them (as we probably were towards our Neanderthal-cousins), will they be a different species now? I think we should make the uplifted group of dolphins sufficiently different from those that still swim in our seas, so they can differentiate between these two groups.
Nevertheless, how will an uplifted species feel towards us? Will they worship us as their creators, or will they be hostile because we are still another species and we were maybe not so nice in the past? I don’t think that Planet of the Apes will be happening. When humans decide that they spend enormous resources on another species, only for the sake of helping another life form, we will be sufficiently enlighten and socially responsible to deal with the teenage-years of the future chimpanzee-civilization.
The whole issue becomes even more relevant, if we are exploring other planets outside our solar system that may host life, but that are problematic for the development of civilizations. Like for example ocean-planets or moons that host intelligent life-forms that – because of their aquatic habitat – were not able to explore fire-based technologies or even electricity. Now imagine that such species have already developed speech, complex social structures and are live in underwater farming communities. However, they are not able to go beyond that. I think that we should help such species to overcome the limitations of their environment and live together with us in a cooperative way.
If we want to explore the universe and search answers for the mysteries of life, we need to change first our attitude. We need to become a species that is not using other life forms for our own benefit, but to try to form symbiotic relationships and closed systems as we see everywhere in nature. Only such a future does have a future for us.