Is building a better human the key to utopia or the world's most dangerous idea?
With new drugs and medical advances making it ever easier to alter our bodies and minds, many have begun to wonder where the trend could take us. The concern has created some unlikely political alliances as critics warn of the day when the modern mania for self-improvement reaches down into our very cells. Some say we should cling to our imperfections, that our rough edges are the source of our uniqueness. Others would redesign us from the genes up. Whatever the case, we might wish to revisit what it means to be human now that life as we know it could be about to change. -- The Editors
Imagine that in the year 2100 the world has become a radically different place. The severely disabled, once totally isolated, communicate telepathically to their computers and other people over special brain implants. Others use the same devices to play CD-quality music in their heads, recall numbers 20 digits long, and relive good feelings from a beach vacation or a hot bath. Health supplements guarantee not only high IQs and low anxiety levels, but also profound spiritual experiences and increased compassion for all living things. Of course, these changes are provided to rich and poor alike -- at least since the outdated nation-state system gave way to a world government led by democratic socialists.
This is the future envisioned by a group of tech-friendly liberal "transhumanists." Transhuman, short for transitional human, refers to the day when our species will be a blend of biology and machine. It's a step, some say, toward a "posthuman" era when we could become a different creature altogether. Since it emerged from the fringes of cyberculture in the late 1980s, the transhumanist movement has been known as much for its libertarian leanings as for its belief in the plugged-in, "four-arm" human of tomorrow. While today all the self-proclaimed liberal transhumanists could probably fit in the holodeck of the starship Enterprise, they count a number of influential scientists, bioethicists, and philosophers in their small but growing ranks.
Unlike their libertarian peers, who tend to denounce all regulation, these "democratic transhumanists" view societal controls as crucial to realizing their openly utopian dreams. Some argue that the trend is irreversible: As with in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproduction techniques, the public demand for longer lives, prettier children, and better moods will override efforts to stop them. If these powerful new technologies are to be used justly, they say, the time to embrace them is now. Others go even further, heralding the redesigned human as the key to transforming the world along progressive lines.
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