Last year it was reported that through genetic engineering, some scientists had made a smarter-than-average mouse. More specifically, they had improved its memory, making it able to learn its way through mazes more quickly and whatnot.
Now some will be quick to point out that memory is not the only important aspect of intelligence; attributes such as creativity, problem-solving, and intuition were unaffected by this new procedure. For me as a science fiction fan, however, this discovery raises an interesting question: What if one day scientists could raise the intelligence, not just the memories, of animals to the same level as humans?
Seems to me that such a procedure would lead to all sorts of delicious ethical dilemmas. Would such a procedure be immoral? Would it mock our human feeling of superiority and threaten our perceived position as lords of the planet? Would some religions have to reevaluate the question of whether animals have souls? Would we as a species feel obligated to alter how we treat animals; that is, would we have to stop eating them and using them as transportation and beasts of burden and entertainment?
Thorny issues would be certainly raised if genetic engineering allowed dogs and horses to be born with human mental abilities, but even more interesting to me would be the possibility of taking a regular, un-altered animal and increasing its intelligence part-way through its life (perhaps through electronic brain implants or some other means). Assuming that the creature were taught to write or in some other way use a human language, we could ask the creature what it had been like to be a regular animal. In short, we might answer once and for all the question which has been debated for centuries: Do animals think?
Of course, the result of this procedure would be another moral dilemma. We would have a being as intelligent as a human in involuntary captivity. Would we be under a moral obligation to release it? Would it be safe, to itself or others, to release a recently intelligence-ified creature?
Personally, I'm all in favor of the idea. I'm not sure about the solution to the moral issue in the last paragraph, but I believe it is solvable. As for the other outcomes, I would look forward eagerly to a day inwhich the human race finally decided to treat its fellow Earth-dwellers with compassion, and we finally accepted the fact that, yes, animals do think.