Your fine Commentary draws attention to some important questions (Nature 450, 1157–1159; 2007). I agree with the point made by several commentators, that there is a need for better understanding of the long-term effects of using potential cognitive enhancers in an ecological setting. It is one thing to show a short-term positive effect on some artificial lab task; it is quite another to show that long-term use actually leads to sustainable performance gains on important real-world tasks, such as academic output. The former is easier to demonstrate, but the latter is what ultimately matters.
Unfortunately, progress on developing effective cognitive enhancers, and on understanding their long-term effects, is hampered by a shortage of focused research in this area. In general, the potential of enhancement medicine has yet to be fully appreciated.
Prevailing patterns of medical funding and regulation are organized around the concept of disease. Every pharmaceutical on the market with alleged cognitive-enhancing effects was developed as a treatment for some pathology. Its good effects on healthy adults’ brains were discovered as fortuitous side effects. This disease-centred framework impedes the development of safe and effective enhancing medicines and has several consequences.
First, it makes funding hard to come by; it also makes it difficult to obtain regulatory approval for enhancement drugs. The result is that those who wish to research cognitive enhancement must often mask their work under the guise of addressing some ‘respectable’ disease.
Second, in order to gain access to the benefits of a cognitive enhancer, the user must first be classified as sick. This leads to the expansion of diagnostic categories and the invention of new pathological conditions — sometimes to cover cases that in earlier times would have been regarded as within normal human variation.
Third, it contributes to inequity in access. The main obstacle for someone who might be interested in trying modafinil or a related drug is not cost (which is similar to that of a large cup of coffee) but information: knowing that the drug exists and how to obtain it. This discriminates against people with little access to information.
With the cockcrow of enhancement medicine, we need to retool our regulatory paradigm. It is not only special occupations such as military commandos and air-traffic controllers that would benefit from good enhancement drugs. Other jobs are just as important and intellectually taxing — including the jobs of many scientists and academics. Anything that can help our brains deal better with the complex challenges of the twenty-first century is to be not only welcomed but actively sought. But it will require substantial investment to develop interventions that are both safe and effective in long-term use.
Marquis de Condorcet (1744-1794) was a hugely influential Enlightenment era thinker who contributed significantly to the rise of secular humanism and helped plant the seeds of transhumanism. He is said to have best represented the ideals of the Enlightenment.
We hereby consider the problem of detectability of macro-engineering projects over interstellar distances, in the context of Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Freeman J. Dyson and his imaginative precursors, like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Olaf Stapledon or John B. S. Haldane, suggested macro-engineering projects as focal points in the context of extrapolations about the future of humanity and, by analogy, other intelligent species in the Milky Way. We emphasize that the search for signposts of extraterrestrial macro-engineering projects is not an optional pursuit within the family of ongoing and planned SETI projects; inter alia, the failure of the orthodox SETI thus far clearly indicates this. Instead, this approach (for which we suggest a name of “Dysonian”) should be the front-line and mainstay of any cogent SETI strategy in future, being significantly more promising than searches for directed, intentional radio or microwave emissions. This is in accord with our improved astrophysical understanding of the structure and evolution of the Galactic Habitable Zone, as well as with the recent wake-up call of Steven J. Dick to investigate consequences of postbiological evolution for astrobiology in general and SETI programs in particular. The benefits this multidisciplinary approach may bear for astrobiologists, evolutionary theorists and macro-engineers are also briefly highlighted. Download the PDF
George was was recently interviewed by Stephen Cobb for his podcast, ‘The Future and You.’ You can listen to the interview by following this MP3 link.
Here’s Cobb’s description of the interview:
George Dvorsky, executive editor of betterhumans.com, is this week’s featured interview. Betterhumans.com is a webzine with News, Articles, and interactive features serving the transhumanist community. George Dvorsky is also the co-founder and president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and has served on the Board of Directors for the World Transhumanist Association.
One of Canada’s leading futurists, activists and award winning bloggers, George Dvorsky has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology.In this capacity he has been interviewed by: The BBC, Radio Free Europe, and by the British newspaper The Guardian. He’s also been on the Canadian television news-magazine The Hour.
Hosted by Stephen Euin Cobb, this is the January 23, 2008 episode of The Future And You. [Running time: 84 minutes]
Why there is a negative perception of transhumanism in the general public, and what we can do about it.
Why the mainstream medical community is working hard to achieve the goals of transhumanism (without realizing it) and will continue to work toward them with or without our encouragement.
The vaccination of children is a perfect example of the transhumanist ideal, George explains, since it is an engineered hyper-immunity produced by technological intervention.
Why the complete end of personal privacy may be unavoidable and imminent.
We as a species find ourselves living with an increasing array of apocalyptic technologies, George says, and we have to learn how to live with these things since we can’t un-invent them.
His personal expectations of The Singularity.
Life extension in general, and how long he personally expects to live.
Why the areas of transhumanist thought that remain controversial are those more removed from just keeping people healthy, and more in the direction of making people better than they ever were before. These areas include such things as increasing the human IQ, life extension, and wiring computers directly into the human brain.
IEET Fellow Doug Rushkoff has finished his four volume graphic novel series on how the stories of the Bible were actually written, and how they resonate with a near future history. An “underground band of renegades…employ technology, alchemy, media hacking and mysticism…to combat the frightening threats to freedom that permeate the world.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’m a huge science fiction nut (and that this has been the case for practically as long as I can remember). I grew up being exposed to Star Trek (both the original series and the Next Generation series when that came out), Star Wars (which I became utterly obsessed with at the age of eight), and other miscellaneous media.
Andrew Petto is co-editor of Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism. We discuss the differences between creationism and intelligent design (ID), and the logical fallacies on which ID is based. (MP3)
Jonathan Haidt, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, studies the emotional basis of moral judgment and political ideology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and then did post-doctoral research in cultural psychology at the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology in 2001 and is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.
Oscar Pistorius, AKA “Blade Runner”—the South African sprinter who uses carbon fiber prosthetics in place of the lower legs amputated as a child—has officially lost his bid to run in the 2008 Olympics.
Some futurists are nervous about the prevalence of fictional narratives at the heart of an awful lot of bioethics discussion. After all, Frankenstein, the golem, designer super-babies, clone armies, genetically superhumanized abilities, genetically subhumanized slaves, human-animal hybrids and so on don’t actually exist despite their frequent appearances in discussions influencing actual health policies impacting people.
“Most people don’t realize how common brain implants have become in the last couple of years. Every month thousands of patients all over the world have electronics surgically implanted into their heads to treat problems with hearing, movement and pain, and more recently with epilepsy, vision, paralysis, depresssion, compulsive behaviour and loss of consciousness (Perlmutter & Mink, 2006; Lebedev & Licolelis, 2006; Kringelbach et al, 2007). The iPlant is just another implant, aimed at new regions in the brain.”
UC Irvine researcher Michael Rose interviews advocates for radical healthy life extension, including Methusaleh Foundation’s Kevin Perrott, Ray Kurzweil, Greg Fahy, Cynthia Kenyon, and MIchael West, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
(Hat tip to Annalee Newitz and her great new I09 blog) MIT biology professor Drew Endy’s “Programming DNA” lecture at the Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin. “This talk will introduce current best practice in biological engineering, including an overview of how to order synthetic DNA and how to use and contribute standard biological parts to an open source collection of genetic functions. The talk will also discuss issues of human practice, including biological safety, biological security, ownership, sharing, and innovation in biotechnology, community organization, and perception across many different publics. My hope is that the conferees of 24C3 will help me to understand how to best enable an overwhelmingly constructive hacker culture for programming DNA.”
Environmental scientist David Keith talks about a cheap, effective, shocking solution to climate change: What if we injected a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere, to deflect sunlight and heat? As an emergency measure to slow a melting ice cap, it could work. Keith discusses why it’s a good idea, why it’s a terrible one—and who, despite the cost, might be tempted to use it.