Let’s assume for a minute that the predictions in the last post are correct and that technology will enable humanity to become maximally happy. What kind of technological advances could get us there?
Here are some possibilities:
A Happiness Pill
This is arguably the most straightforward possibility. We’ll simply take a pill to change the chemistry in our heads in a favourable way, making us happier.
Crucially, the pill must not have any negative side-effects, such as feeling worse later as a counter-reaction to the pill (“crash”) or becoming addicted. Unfortunately, all of today’s “happiness pills,” whether they be caffeine, nicotine, Ecstasy, Prozac or others, do have considerable side-effects.
Happiness is inherited – at least partially. Scientists in Scotland and Australia who studied more than 900 pairs of twins found that genes play a significant part in determining how happy we are in life (read more here).
As genetic modification becomes more feasible, the question is: Should we change our offspring’s genes in a way which makes them happier? Asked another way, can we accept responsibility for not taking advantage of these opportunities, thereby preventing them from leading significantly happier lives?
Artificial Brain Stimulation
Our brain creates the world (“reality”) based on the stimulation it receives through touch, smells, sight, or other senses. If we could control these impulses (e.g., as depicted in the movie The Matrix, where brains are kept in gelatinous substances stimulated artificially by computers), we could create fake, but happy worlds.
As these opportunities are not available yet, one may be inclined to wait until they become available and then consider applying. However, this could mean lost time. If we appreciate their anticipated outcome (which will be evaluated in more detail in future posts), we should actively aim to support their development.
Surprisingly, there are few focused efforts to develop these technologies (and discuss related questions, such as their ethical implications). I find this mind-boggling, considering that almost everything we do is directed at achieving happiness. Is it the fear of the unknown that has prevented us from searching for those technologies?
To fill the gap, I propose launching a new initiative: Happiness Engineering.
What is Happiness Engineering?
Here is a first shot at a definition:
Happiness engineering is the systematic application of scientific methods to create states which are perceived as happier by the individual(s) experiencing them (compared to the states when those methods are not applied) while minimizing the negative counter- or side-effects of creating such states.
Beyond the core task of developing happiness-creating technologies, the field of Happiness Engineering should focus on:
- Providing transparency on existing efforts to create happiness (and detailed explanations of their successes and failures)
- Evaluating possible outcomes of happiness technologies and contributing to ethical discussions
- Reducing the risks potentially posed by the new technologies
- Raising public awareness for the initiative and its goals and aims
- Raising funds to support the initiative
At this point, I’d like to know what you think about this. Should we pursue such an initiative, researching ways to create happiness through technology and actively addressing the ethical questions which result from those efforts? Or should we refrain from accelerating this development (which will come either way) and adopt a wait-and-see attitude?