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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.


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.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Enhancement's Dark Mirror -- How to (Dis)Empower Our Children

A group of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health has announced that industrial chemicals have impaired the brain development of children, creating behaviorial problems and reducing intelligence and attention span. This article in Montreal's Gazette discusses the report at greater length. The piece adds:

The Lancet report says one in six children now has a developmental disability, many of them learning problems, sensory deficits and developmental delays that affect the nervous system. Mounting evidence has linked industrial chemicals to such neurological disorders, and the report deplores the way the chemicals are ''not regulated to protect children.''

There are ''great gaps'' in testing of the chemicals, and regulators will only restrict compounds if there is a ''high level'' of proof of damage and problems, the report says, adding this puts vulnerable developing brains at unacceptable risk.

In nine months, the fetal brain grows into ''a complex organ consisting of billions of precisely located, highly interconnected and specialized cells,'' the report says.

The growth occurs within ''a tightly controlled time frame, in which each developmental stage has to be reached on schedule and in the correct sequence.''

This creates ''windows of unique susceptibility to toxic interference'' that can have permanent consequences, say Grandjean and co-author Philip J. Landrigan, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Their list of 201 chemicals toxic to the human brain is based on available data and studies, and they say there are likely many more.

Grim though these statistics are, they do offer a peculiar brand of hope. Nations have the option of greatly increasing their overall intelligence by solving the many unnecessary afflictions facing their children -- such as these toxins, malnutrition, or inferior educational opportunities -- thus making (relatively) great strides forward.

Further, as countries begin to confront the reality of how badly they have stunted so many of their children both developmentally and in terms of their ultimate biological potential, we may see governments, communities and NGOs start to take options for counteracting these deficits much more seriously, whether in the form of accelerated learning, nootropic nutrients, nootropic drugs (perhaps first distributed for strictly therapeutic reasons) and so forth.

Could mistakes be made in an abrupt, large-scale imposition of such technologies? Of course. But the nature of this problem means that many solutions will probably be either implemented very slowly and carefully with considerable empirical data (therapeutic drugs) or piecemeal, in a voluntary way (such as small Montessory schools, self-hypnosis experiments or the use of sensory deprivation tanks).

We should also remember, this data follows on recent U.S. military reports that 31% of U.S. Marines, 38% of U.S. soldiers and 49% of national guardsmen suffer from conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Which means that eventually, the U.S. is also going to have to deal with the brain damage and/or mental illnesses of hundreds of thousands of its troops. All of which means that methods for improving the brain, whether termed "enhancements" or "therapy," are going to be of growing concern to the U.S., especially as soon as any of these organizations calculate the cost of taking care of someone with significant brain damage, versus not having to take care of a once-more productive citizen.

Bio, Soc
Future Imperative