Let’s make sure some dystopic science fiction movies do not bias us against man maschine combinations. They already exist. They also entail great chance and opportunities.
Are cyborgs better?
Once brain-compatible memories or fast network connections are possible, it will lead to a clear superiority of the cyborg over the natural Homo Sapiens in certain areas. The richest citizens will claim the most powerful enhancements, and so for the first time in history they will not only be the ones born into the right families at the right time. They will truly be “something better”. The chances of a non-optimized average citizen to outperform then tend towards zero. At the last Olympic Games – for the first time ever – a sprinter who had prostheses fitted in place of his amputated lower leg was not admitted. The reason was not that a disabled person would not have had a chance in the comparison. To the contrary, it was seen as a disadvantage for the uninjured.
Are more cyborgs much better?
What is true for the individual is also true for the collective on a national level. The rich states become more and more powerful because they can afford more optimized citizens. This development holds enormous explosive potential. It re-enforces hopelessness at the lower end and will lead to the “justified” assumption at the upper end that one is excessively superior.
Are cyborgs patentable?
To counteract this drifting apart of whole populations is one of the tasks of the association. Since it has no legislative powers, it could exert influence through private-sector mechanisms such as patent pools and targeted investments in high-tech companies. Instead of waiting for an international patent convention that would prohibit protective rights for human-machine interfaces, the association could build up its own portfolio and make it available to companies from poorer countries on an advantageous basis. If the companies involved in the association play along, a critical mass could quickly develop. The transfer of such patent portfolios to the association could be incentivized by reducing membership fees in return or by agreeing on a coded distribution of the profits generated. In any case, it will seem desirable to a large number of companies in such key technologies for humanity that there is not just one economic operator who happens to hold the decisive patent and all other companies sink into insignificance. Broad access to such a man-machine portfolio enables competition in the matter, in the concrete implementation.
How long is man maschine-tech patentable?
All in all, it seems reasonable to me not to guarantee a 20-year patent protection in this area, which is critical for human development. The span is too long and will drive the differences in the world too far apart. Technology such as man machine interfaces will become cheaper and more accessible after expiration of industrial property rights. A good and visible example of this mechanism are the generics in pharmaceutical industry. Three years could also be sufficient as investment protection. Again, for the legislator to act it will take decades until all major states have agreed on a common approach.
The patent pool of all major companies could be extended beyond human-machine interfaces to every critical application of a technology. The companies concerned could then agree on appropriate investment protection under the expert guidance of the association without having to rely on national legislators. As far as such a pool is also open to non-members under comparable conditions, this could probably also be arranged in conformity with cartel law.
Of course, not everthing in the man-maschine space is desirable. Even though good opoortunities exist we need to develop an ethical guideline to differentiate the desirable progress from non-ethical developments. We will go there next week.