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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

There Is No Stop Button in the Race for Human Re-Engineering -- Bio, Soc

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Madeleine Bunting of The Guardian has written an article on human enhancement technologies. Bunting expresses some concerns about the pace and disruptive potential of human augmentation -- even her "most positive" scenario is meant to be rather disturbing. After discussing her daughter's quandary about whether to take nootropic drugs to keep up mentally with everyone else at work and whether to give her granddaughter intelligence enhancements -- which she does, to dramatic effect -- we learn...

The other thing that concerns us is that many of the children in my grandchild's school have had much better enhancement programmes. The cleverest went to China for the latest technology. I can see that my grand-child is never going to keep up. At the moment, she doesn't mind that she's bottom of her class, but she'll be lucky to get to a good university. The one hope I've got is that they might introduce quotas for "naturals" or "near-naturals" like her.


Bunting's best point, though, is that Europe would be well served by getting into a debate that has mainly raged on this side of the Atlantic (if quietly, from the perspective of the typical American).

It's time we got our heads around this debate on this side of the Atlantic so that we can influence what technologies are developed, rather than leaving it to the scientists and the pharmaceutical and military interests who sponsor their research. There's a growing sense of urgency to get the public debate up to speed with what's at stake.

Last week, a remarkable exercise in public consultation in Brussels, Meeting of Minds, drew people from across the EU together to discuss the subject. Next week, the thinktank Demos launches a pamphlet, Better Humans. Oxford University's Said Business School is hosting a big international conference, Tomorrow's People, in March - at which Garreau is a keynote speaker.

The point well made by Better Humans is how far advanced public acceptance is of many of the principles that underlie these technologies. So we're not talking about radical new steps, only an acceleration of existing trends. For example, if you can have Viagra for an enhanced sexual life, why not a Viagra for the mind? Is there a meaningful difference? If we show such enthusiasm for "improving" our noses and breasts with cosmetic surgery, why not also improve our brains? As computers continue to increase in power and shrink in size, why shouldn't we come to use them as prostheses, a kind of artificial limb for the brain? If we have successfully lengthened life expectancy with good sanitation and diet, why can't we lengthen it with new drugs? Ritalin is already being traded in the classroom by US students to help improve their concentration.


Bunting doesn't feel there's a "stop button" available to halt augmentation research (if only because making medical advances against very real diseases are too important to shut down dual-use research). But I think her point that far more people need to be engaged in this debate, or at least cognizant of it, is extremely well taken.


Future Imperative

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