From smart pills to designer babies and extended life spans... A public debate is needed now about the potential for new technologies to make us ‘better than human’ according to a report published today by UK think tank Demos and the Wellcome Trust. Better Humans? The politics of human enhancement and life extension (0.6Mb PDF) is a new collection of essays by leading scientists and commentators, edited by Paul Miller and James Wilsdon:
We all share a desire for self-improvement.Whether through education, work, parenthood or adhering to religious or ethical codes, each of us seeks to become a ‘better human’ in a variety of ways. And for some people, more consumerist pursuits hold the key to self-improvement: working out in the gym, wearing makeup, buying new clothes, or indulging in a spot of cosmetic surgery.
But now a new set of possibilities is opening up. Advances in biotechnology, neuroscience, computing and nanotechnology mean that we are in the early stages of a period of huge technological potential. Within the next 30 years, it may become commonplace to alter the genetic make-up of our children, to insert artificial implants into our bodies, or to radically extend life expectancy.
This collection of essays explores the implications of human enhancement technologies and asks how citizens and policy-makers should respond.
You can also download individual essays:
Chapter 1 Stronger, leaner, faster - Paul Miller and James Wilsdon
Chapter 2 Is it wrong to try to improve human nature? - Arthur Caplan
Chapter 3 Welcome to a world of exponential change - Nick Bostrom
Chapter 4 The mand who wants to live forever - Paul Miller and James Wilsdon
Chapter 5 The transhumanists as tribe - Greg Klerkx
Chapter 6 Brain gain - Steven Rose
Chapter 7 The cognition-enhanced classroom - Danielle Turner and Barbara Sahakian
Chapter 8 Better by design - Sarah Franklin
Chapter 9 More life - Jon Turney
Chapter 10 Nip/Tuck nation - Decca Aitkenhead
Chapter 11 The perfect crime - Rachel Hurst
Chapter 12 The unenhanced underclass - Gregor Wolbring
Chapter 13 Does smarter mean happier? - Raj Persaud
These issues will also be debated at Forum 2006, a major international conference on human enhancement taking place at Oxford University from 14-17 March 2006. Organised by the James Martin Institute, the conference will bring together scientists, ethicists and policymakers to explore the implications of these developments.
UPDATE: Josie Appleton discusses the book on Sp!ked Online: Can technology make us more or less human? For Appleton, its not about the technology:
In all these questions, it's human values that are the key - not the particular technology being used, or even the provenance of the body part. It is possible to make a foreign organ into part of yourself - as seen in organ transplants, prosthetic limbs, or the recent face transplant of a French woman. Equally, it is possible to feel that your own body parts don't really belong to you - as seen in cases of sex-change operations, or voluntary amputation. The question hangs on whether we are self-possessed or alienated from ourselves.
It's because this area is really a debate about values that it is interesting. Do we want to live longer - if not, why not? How do we use technologies to extend ourselves rather than avoid ourselves? It is also why it should be a matter for public discussion, rather than just the concern of scientists and futurists.