Our Posthuman Future : Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution

This fall, the editors of a leading public policy magazine, Foreign Policy, asked eight prominent intellectuals to identify the single idea they felt was currently posing the greatest threat to humanity. Most of the suggestions were merely old demons: various economic myths, the idea that you can fight "a war on evil," Americaphobia and so on.

Only Francis Fukuyama, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, came up with a new candidate: transhumanism. Transhumanism might be described as the technology of advanced individual enhancement. While it includes physical modifications (diamondoid teeth, self-styling hair, autocleaning ears, nanotube bones, lipid metabolizers, polymer muscles), most of the interest in the technology focuses on the integration of brains and computers — especially brains and networks. Sample transhumanist apps could include cell phone implants (which would allow virtual telepathy), memory backups and augmenters, thought recorders, reflex accelerators, collaborative consciousness (whiteboarding in the brain), and a very long list of thought-controlled actuators.

Ultimately, the technology could extend to the uploading and downloading of entire minds in and out of host bodies, providing a self-consciousness that, theoretically, would have no definitive nor necessary end. That is, immortality, of a sort.

While some of these abilities are clearly quite far off, others are already attracting researchers, and none are known (at the moment at least) to be impossible to achieve. Fukuyama obviously felt the technology was close enough at hand to write a book about it, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, the thrust of which is that society should give the whole idea a miss. His main concern was that transhumanism would place an impossible burden on the idea of equal rights, since it would multiply the number of ways of being human well past our powers of tolerance. (If we have all this trouble with something simple like skin color, just wait until some people have wings, augmented memory and reflex accelerators.)


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