Humans have entered a period known as the biotech renaissance, where the advent of new forms of genetic modification gives rise to a host of new bioengineered life forms.

One of these are animals that have been uplifted or “enhanced” to sapience. These beings have equal rights from the get-go, since humans have already established interspecies sapient rights after confirming other species (dolphins, and the like) to be sapient.

This creates a problem: one of the main reasons for uplifting in science fiction is to produce servile or enslaved races, and since this is a no-no in this project, after the novelty of uplifting wears off, humans will have little incentive I can think of for creating more enhanced animals.

So, in order to ensure the continuation of this practice, how could a sapient species profit financially from uplifting another species, in a way that does not involve enslaving them?


Okay, so having read through the comments, I have decided to add something. While selling stuff to the poor enhanced dogs sounds great, there is an issue: these dogs may start to wonder why they are being charged for the support and care which a normal parent would provide for free.

To revise, is there any way to profit off enhancing that does not involve profiting off the enhanced’s work/neediness?

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    $\begingroup$ Rick and Morty had an alien race that was basically enslaved with extra steps. Rick gave them the tech for electricity, they generate it, he uses most of it for himself. He justifies this by keeping it secret and having low ethics. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Smith
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ The Editor in “the Long Game” in Doctor Who, season 1, said “is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?” The answer is yes. $\endgroup$
    – user98816
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ VTC:Too Story-Based. "Ethics" is the combination of law and morality, which are only within the scope of worldbuilding on this Stack if you provide specifics (real specifics) about both in your culture (human law and morality is all over the map, so you need to be incredibly specific). Profitability is even worse. In fact, an argument can be made that "ethical profitability" is an oxymoron. More to the point, nearly every "how can I profit from X?" question on this Stack has been closed - because it's too story-based. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ It entirely depends on what you consider 'ethical' which is what @JBH is getting at, 'ethics' differ from culture to culture and from person to person within any given culture so this is entirely a question of opinion .. and the site doesn't like questions that have to rely on opinion for their answers. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ You're going to somehow ethically perform genetic modification on a group that has all the same rights as humans? We remember Nuremberg. You should too. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 4:12

17 Answers 17



enter image description here

Only one third of the Earth's surface has apartments on it. This generation of Facebook users refuse to live at the bottom of the ocean. They say that's where no air is. Little do they know that's where all the money is.

That's where the mermans come in.

Uplift the dolphins. Give them opposable thumbs and social anxiety. Sell them gloves and waterproof nail varnish. Sell them nail varnish remover and SSRI medication. Sell them girders and concrete to build their apartments on the sea floor.

Sell them computers and wait for them to register on Facebook. Then hit those suckers with targeted advertisement. We make a killing on hosting ads. As a by-product we sell more gloves, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

Once the mermans are all addicted to Facebook, sell them physiotherapy for their repetitive stress disorder from spending all day on Facebook.

More generally, find a place too hostile to normal humans. Uplift a local species so they establish a civilization. Then trade with that civilization. Ker-ching!

The only drawback of this idea is it stretches the bounds of "building fictional worlds". In particular the fictional part. You see the above is currently a proposed business strategy for Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is already part dolphin. 40% of Americans are unable to tell the difference between the two photos below.

enter image description here

Use the above at your peril. There are people that will revere you as some kind of prophet.

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    $\begingroup$ Great business opportunity, but I think one of the criteria for an answer was that it be 'ethical' $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @alex_danielssen Perhaps we should ask a question "Are there Ethical ways to profit?" $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 13:22

Treat Them As Employees!

This is simple: treat them as employees in a business. Sure, they may have different desires and needs than others, but uplifting a species produces employees with a very special skill set. (Sometimes that skill is genetically granted, but it's a skill you pay for like any other!)

If the society can guarantee freedom of movement, citizenship, and property to all its sapient creatures, slavery does not really exist as a legal institution. The cost of raising a species to this level could be great or small: it depends on the species.

An Example

This means, as a hospital owner, your cancer-sniffing dog can now talk as well as provide better diagnostics ("it clearly smells like lung cancer, not pancreatic cancer"), and you pay it a dog-version of a living wage. It is not a slave to you: it can quit and find another hospital to work at.

Additionally, you did have to pay for most doors and buttons to be dog-openable, but the increased diagnostic powers are worth it. Dr. Collie orders prescriptions, lab work, and other procedures like any other doctor, but simply uses speech recognition instead of writing things down.

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    $\begingroup$ Bark to text sounds like an epic idea. +1 for it :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ That's some Fantastic Racism you got there! Dr Collie won't do that, it's Lab work $\endgroup$
    – Kyyshak
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ @kyyshak Nevermind the retrievers in the postal service and the Chihuahuas in legal. There is just too much material here, I can't take it. 🤣 $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ And it brings up other interesting conundrums. Dogs can talk and sniff for cancer, but is it ethical for talking dogs sniff for bombs? Is it ethical to have uplifted dogs working along side non-uplifted dogs? Lots of material. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Dog in a hospital? Reminds me of the joke about the huge veterinary bill - it was for the lab(rador) tests and the cat-scan. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 16:45

It solves the labor shortage

I have an orchard with a genetically enhanced fruit that is very valuable, however, since it's the far future, no one wants to come work in my orchard. However, there's an animal species that is ideal for picking my fruit, as they are natural climbers. If I breed a bunch of these, and then uplift them, I could offer them a really good job picking fruit in my orchard. Some of them might say no, and go their own way, but many of them agree, and now I have a worker who I can pay fairly for the labor that they do.

  • $\begingroup$ So the procedure could be: orchard-grower enhances a species, orchard grower offers individuals of said species job on his plantation, some refuse, some say yes, and orchard grower gets new staff? $\endgroup$
    – user98816
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Why not robots? They would be cheaper, more reliable, get not pregnant. But you would to have very clever robots (expensive, might have right) and custom made robots for your project. Making some apes more clever seems cheaper for a small scale projekt, especially if you don't have to pay them if they leave. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @stupidstudent robots are getting better but organic brains are much better in organic environments. A robot that can handle all of the possible situations in an orchard is an expensive device. I can get a person to do the same job for significantly less money, and if he does a bad job I can train or - if necessary - replace him. And when there's something a millimeter outside of a pre-set envelope he can figure it out for himself. Better to give a man a tool than to replace the man with a more expensive tool IMO. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ Disney did this movie back in the 60's: Monkeys, Go Home! Though the case was that the owner was unwilling to pay local labor prices, so brought in chimpanzees. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know how ethical this is. You've got a species you are tailor-making to do a specific (undesirable - why exactly?) job. How much of a choice do they actually have? Are you making sure they are equally suited for other "far future" jobs? $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 14:51

Let capitalism show you the way.

Your crop of genetically improved trees is great, except here in this bright future, there's only so much demand for them. People only need so many houses. Say, wouldn't it be great if a whole bunch of "people" showed up and created a new demand for your product? You uplift all the beavers in the area. And the foxes. And the geese. They are no longer content with their previous living conditions and would like new homes. Some of the beavers actually work as wood cutters on your tree farm, earning cash, which they use to purchase services from other animals, who in turn spend some of their income buying wood from your tree farm, in order to build more houses... You have a whole pop-up economy in no time. Like a town of thousands just materialized out of nowhere because basically that's what happened.

The uplifted squirrels are also fond of your bioengineered acorns. You are basically generating customers for your products, by uplifting them.

This is also how I imagine aliens uplifting humans would go. Ultimately they need a market for their warp drives, and here we are, billions of people and not a warp drive between the lot of us. Uplifting creates eager trading partners, exactly where you wished some could appear. What precisely the uplifted animals can offer for trade is a brainstorming topic I'll veer away from but it's no worse than any society is faced with: here we are, what can we find, make, sell or do for a living?


If you uplift them enough, they can become trading partners. If you engage solely in ethical business practices, with full disclosure and choice by the species, then you can engage in trade with them.

There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you haven't crippled them cognitively or changed them to be obedient slaves, and you aren't trading something they absolutely must have to survive.

Capitalism is ethical if (and only if) both parties are free to walk away from a trade without that endangering their life or otherwise causing them harm.

If any party is basically coerced by circumstances, it is no longer ethical capitalism, it is just robbery. The equivalent of the false choice, "Your money or your life" with a gun to your head.

In other words, the uplifting operation has to be done gratis; a speculative gift to the species, in the hope that the species will choose to do business with you.

But in the end it has to be their "free" choice, after uplifting they must be left in a state where a fully informed free choice can be made: They can remain uplifted and choose to ignore you.

IMO, that would be an ethical uplifting.


This is a frame challenge. You have been warned.

There are loads of interesting stories around uplift, but most of them don't seem to ask the Malcolm Question: should we? Uplifted chimps or dolphins are just presented as a fait acompli, now we have to deal with the fallout. You seem to be in a similar situation.

The answer you're looking for is probably bound up in the answer to an earlier question: why did we uplift them? If our ethical standard had already evolved to the point where we've already granted them all of the same rights as humans then what reason would we have to violate their species identity without their informed consent?

Well, because we could of course! Shut up Dr Malcolm, we've already done it. You're too late as usual. Yes, your hindsight is incredibly acute, but it's not useful.

Where was I? Oh yes...

Given that champanzees are equivalent to humans by your legal structure, uplift is an illegal pursuit. You'd break huge amounts of laws against kidnapping, medical testing, performing medical procedures without informed consent, genetic modification without consent, eugenics... the list goes on and on. And on.

But it has apparently been done. That means that you have a completely unethical bio-science group who don't care at all about silly things like ethical or legal constraints. What makes you think that these poor citizens, after being illegally modified by a crazed group of evil geniuses, would ever be released from their cells? I don't think you thought that through.

But let's introduce an external factor who free these poor unfortunates from their captivity. What happens next? Let's say we have a group of illegally modified non-human sapients whose genetic material has been extensively modified. They can't survive in the wild with their cousins, and in fact their altered appearance makes it certain that they'd be killed if you tried. They're now smart enough that they can tell you exactly how miserable the idea of living in the wild makes them too. The only viable options they have is to form their own little community.

So they get legal representation, sue the company and the mad scientists - or their estates, depending on how the rescue went - that created them and now they're moderately wealthy. They're a tiny community of highly modified sapient creatures, with no social skills and an average lifespan around 40 years. Unless there are enough of them with high enough genetic diversity the group dies out in a few generations. And since they're smart enough to figure that out the suicide rate is going to be ridiculous.

Too dark? You said they had human rights. What did you expect that to mean?

OK, let's assume that human rights aren't extended to creatures we might want to uplift, like chimps and dolphins. And dogs, because doggos. We've hashed it out and decided that it'd be too cool not to have uplifted doggos, so let's do it! (While carefully not looking at the mountains of corpses from failed experiments. Go go Magic Biotech!)

Now we have dogs with human-level intelligence and a few physical alterations: hands capable of full manipulation, mouths modified to allow complex speech, that sort of thing. What do you do with them?

Well, first you give them a place to live. A community. You socialize them with each other and with humans, letting them figure out for themselves what their society is going to look like. They're not humans with fur after all, they're full sapients with all the rights - and responsibilities - that entails. You educate them, give them options for all of the training they might want, and eventually you have a proper uplifted species.

At that point the question of "what do we do with them" answers itself. You do nothing. They're smart, they have abilities that people will be interested in hiring (assuming you didn't modify their senses too much) and they can make their own way. They'll need financial support for a few generations, but who doesn't these days?

The same will be true of any uplifted species. If the reason for uplift isn't to make them better workers worth exploiting then you're going to have to put in a lot of work. And since they're not human they're going to come up with their own ideas about what a society of uplifted chimps or dogs or dolphins or whatever looks like. They might even have their own religions.

Oh, but be careful how smart you make them. A species of hyper-intelligent neo-chimps might sound like fun, but if they decide that humans aren't necessary anymore then they might be a little hard to stop. But don't make them too dumb either, because that's just manufacturing a low-intellect slave class. Hopefully we can tune it to human average, because clearly humans are the best example for uplift... right?

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    $\begingroup$ The original frame states that only sapient species are given human-equivalent rights which implies a way to determine sapience, that in and of itself is a can of worms. But if these scientists determine a turtle isn't sapient and then uplift it, then I totally agree you have a Pandora's box of considerations when it comes to the bioengineering/eugenics aspect of giving the new creature more or less of something compared to the average human. And that's before someone uplifts a species to just beneath the definition of sapient to get around the servitude issue... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @WildcatMatt I think uplifted turtles would be awesome. For the rest... ethics is a minefield of mines laid on top of mines with a substrate of more mines. It's not turtles all the way down, it's mines 😁 $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 21:46

Depends on what one's set of ethics are.

In Mahayana Buddhist ethics, it is unfortunate to be born a dumb beast. They don't have the mental capacity of mind to do anything but eat and sleep, and that's unfortunate and sad for them. (Not saying this is exclusive to Buddhism; there would be similar sets of values in other philosophies.)

To take a dumb unfortunate beast and give it the nobility of mind to think for itself, question, acquire knowledge – that's one of the greatest things you can do. It would be like meeting a person with a brain injury and restoring their brain to full functioning. They would be grateful to you forever, and maybe they would express this gratitude financially, the same elderly parents benefit from the gratitude of their children.


People want uplifted pets

How many kids out there don't wish that they could talk to their kitten? Dogs, if not well trained, can be unpredictable and disobedient, it would be much easier just to be able to tell them not to wee on the carpet or chew the furniture.

Of course there's no guarantee that they'll want to hang around once brought to sapience, but if they are a well-treated member of the family there's no reason they shouldn't.

... assuming we are OK with non-consensual uplifting (i.e. the animal would not have the ability to consent before the operation took place) ...

So to profit, simply charge for the procedure!


We don't need slaves

If we reach this level of technology, we don't need slaves. Robots are programmed to fulfil our every need.

We don't eat animals anymore because we grow bacteria and yeast in tanks and print our food at such quality and refinement that actual meat from animals would be vastly inferior.

We don't even need money anymore as automated mining and manufacturing done in space means everyone has everything they could want already.

Now why do we want to uplift other species? Shits and giggles mostly. Because we can. Boredom would be our real enemy. We haven't found any aliens so lets make our own species. What could be cooler than talking to spacefaring dolphins? Gigantic whale pod colony ships? Fleets of space wolves?

enter image description here

Now humanity doesn't actually have to profit or even do this. With this tech, society could be run by an AI designed to protect society and the AI could be uplifting species to provide stimulation for it's human charges.

We would be functionally immortal with this level of technology and boredom coupled with humanity's self destructive tendencies would be our greatest threat. Seeding the galaxy with uplifted species would help keep humanity entertained.


They aren’t technically enslaved

Slavery in many real world countries is illegal, for example, in United States slavery is illegal, but in many places there are underpaid workers living in very poor conditions.

The uplifted species in your world can be compared to some immigrants in the United States. Both are generally less educated, they are poorer, and they are less healthy.

Employers can do the same thing in your world as they do in real life, they take advantage of the uplifted species. Your employers could offer the uplifted species free housing, healthcare, and food that may seem great to your impoverished species but are truly really cheap. You could even go as far to have the uplifted species sign contracts having them work for the rest of their lives at the threat of ruining the personal aspects of their life, the gifts of truly un-valuable contents, or simply manipulating them into thinking there is no better option.


Frame challenge: why do you need to profit?

If your society is at the point where it can arbitrarily gengineer species to sapience, it's probably also a post-scarcity one, at which point money isn't a thing.


In order for it to be ethical it needs to be beneficial for the animal to become sentient. Examples include:

  1. Wildlife preservation: The sapient creatures are more apt in avoiding predators, weather avoidance and reporting poachers. They can also report pollution. The money saved on wildlife protection can be pocketed.
  2. Deals with pests: The issue with pigeons/rats/mosquitoes/bed bugs is not that they exist, it's where and how. If you can strike deals with them on where and how they coexist it reduces suffering of these races as well as humans. Sanitation budget can be pocketed.
  3. Empowered employment: Some animal species have skills that are worth more for humans than the needs of these species. Animals already employed, such as guard dogs, drug sniffing dogs, rescue spotter pigeons could be empowered by giving them the power to haggle their employment terms.

Depending on your ethics system other aspects, such as national security may override my above definition. Conscribed animals, espionage animals may be within scope for your world.


Why do you have children?

For 95% of the people it isn't "continue my genetic line" or whatever.

Why do countries want more people?

In a modern industrial knowledge economy, it turns out that people are an asset for the nation.

Why do we uplift?

People will uplift animals and raise them as children.

The same technologies used for uplift will also be used on humans. If we can boost the intelligence of dolphins, that same tech will probably let us modify the intelligence of humans.

So we'll have "uplifted" humans and "uplifted" dolphins and "uplifted" dogs.

Doing it on a new species will be challenging, but there are plenty of ethical reasons to do it (giving the beings more power, for example; non-uplifted populations are at the mercy of more intelligent beings).

Practically, uplifted dolphins, dogs, chimpanzees, and ravens are all going to have different capabilities than uplifted humans. From difference comes strength. With a population of uplifted dolphins, 2/3 of the Earth's surface goes from being only useful for shipping to being living area, for example.

Morphic freedom

Full understanding of how biology and intelligence works is plausibly going to go along with better ability to modify already living beings and minds.

Uploading of humans either to computers, robots or other biological minds could be something that happens. The first "uplifted dolphins" might be biological constructs with brains that are copied from a human; and the human can copy back to their normal body after the experience.

If the brains are "blank", it might be considered ethical to do this experimentally until you have a working intelligent dolphin able to control the dolphin body .. that is "just" a temporary (or permanent) copy of a human consciousness.

Under this model, the uplifted species descends from humanity. Just humans modified to be that creature.


Tax them

Yes. It's as simple as that. You just uplift them and consider it a pay upfront cost of invesment. Register them as a citizen of some kind. Let them have their IDs. Give them a starting point with some budget. After that, you don't care whatever they do. They need to pay taxes just like other humans do. Once the uplifted animal population reaches certain point, they will continue to grow that number by themselves. So, you can accordingly adjust the rate of uplifting operation.


Make bioengineering a societal priority.

The most important thing to make it work as you want is that society do see uplifting as a good in itself for the sake of bring more being to sapientety. Once you are sure that the predominant ideologies goes something along the line of "all sapient species are equal, and the gift of sapience is so great that we OUGHT to give it to more species" everything will come much easier.

And, assuming that you give all right to them, uplifited species will most definitly have to have a seat on the table of who get uplifted

Dang, specialized worker do be specialised

The simplest answer to your conondrum, is that, if everybody is treated fairly, your uplifted species will most likely tend to work in field where they are better suited. hell, it could be a cornerstone of the new culture. whenever a new field appear, you simply uplift a species that would be fit for it.

Do not not offer reparation

As it is a highly political question i will still sting there on another point that shouldn't be overlooked. if you stay in a capitalist framework, you simply cannot not exploit the new species.

If in a generation or two dog go from dog to sapient entity with the ability to function in human society independently, without master, but are still though

if you do not want those dog to be slaved by being forced to work for human, you will have to give them a HUGE headstart, as all of their forefather were litterally owning no wealth and now they have to fend for themself.

And no system where you just get vallue from somebody will be just and not exploitative. the wealth need to be redistributed between all those species so that even if one make a task that could be deemed of lesser value, they are not punished for it


It creates a whole new pool of customers and employees. In short it’s a whole new market.

It’s a bit like e.g. Romania joining the EU. It opened a huge market for big companies like Lidl or Uniqa.


Create a cooperative or a society that shares the profit. Each member of the cooperative has a say in how society functions with everyone having equal 'stock' in the cooperative. Everyone you uplift is to going to have a say in the community they are uplifted in and get a share of any of the profit that is being distributed. This is literally what a cooperative is by definition: a farm, business, or other organization which is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.


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