Humanity on the cusp of enhancement revolution

An article from the Pew Research Center takes a long look at the subject of Human Enhancement, reviewing the “scientific and ethical dimensions of striving for perfection.” The theme of transhumanism is getting a lot of media attention these days, and it was no surprise when Nautilus weighed in, capturing the ambivalence over aging in one issue three months ago when explaining “why aging isn’t inevitable”, while another article in the same issue argued that it is physics, not biology, that makes aging inevitable because “nanoscale thermal physics guarantees our decline, no matter how many diseases we cure.” Hmmm . . .

Taking another perspective, a third Nautilus feature speculated on the old “forget adding years to life, focus on adding life to years” chestnut, asking if the concept of “morbidity compression” might mean that 90 will “become the new 60.”

On the day that this year’s Olympics kick off in Brazil, we can conclude our round-up of key articles with a fascinating contribution to the enhancement debate by Peter Diamandis of SingularityHUB, speculating on what Olympian competition might be like in the future “when enhancement is the norm.” And it is this last headline link that brings into sharp focus the major point on which most media commentaries on enhancement agree: the key word is “norm”.

Enhancement is in the natural order of things and never really manifests itself as a choice so long as it remains evolutionary: that is, moving so slowly that nobody much notices it. When change explodes with such momentum that nobody can fail to notice it, it begins to settle into being a new normal. And as Diamandis concludes his extended thought experiment on what is happening with a quick spin through synthetic biology, genomics, robotics, prosthetics, brain-computer-interfaces, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, he concludes almost plaintively:

“We’ve (kind of) already started . . .”

As indeed we have. In today’s Olympian moment we can note that whether or not human enhancement was part of “God’s plan” (as per the weakest section of the Pew article) the idea of Faster, Higher, Stronger certainly figured in the plans of Baron de Coubertin. Now, can this also mean Smarter? Left hanging in the otherwise excellent Pew piece is the question if a “better brain” might enable a better mind or, at least, a higher capacity for clearer and more creative thinking. Can we move our thinking up a gear?

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