Human Enhancement is Normal

The ethics of human enhancement are tricky and often the first objection that I hear to technologically improving our minds and bodies is one of morality: why should some people get to become smarter and stronger while others do not? is it right to try to improve our god-given body? isn’t it dangerous to allow such technologies to develop?

Despite these objections the human race seems to be eager to step into this next phase. take exoskeletons for example. a couple of years ago I saw a video of an exoskeleton being tested for military use. Recently a paraplegic woman was able to walk a marathon using an exoskeleton (over the course of 17 days but hey, she can’t move her legs). I also saw that a little girl with a muscular disorder was given a 3d printed pair of arms to help her move.  and here’s another suit made by the Tokyo university of science which allows a person to carry substantially more weight.

No one’s asking if we should be doing this, and no one’s saying this isn’t right or natural. Of course, disabled individuals are the first to be helped by enhancement technologies, but not all of these suits are therapeutic. I think that we’ll see many more disabled individuals using exoskeletons to get around, and factory workers using suits and gloves.

If you’ve looked at some of these links you may have noticed that everyone but the story about the little girl references iron man. I’m not really going anywhere with that point, I just think it’s interesting.

Anyway, human enhancement is normal in our culture and I think there is good reason for this. We’ve really been enhancing ourselves ever since we could make tools and talk to each other, all technological progress has been human enhancement and what we are doing now feel in line with that process. I only wonder when we will reach the point when we realize that our enhancement is now actually radically changing who we are, and our tools are significantly more powerful and worrisome than what’s come before.

I personally experience the normality of enhancement in my own college environment. Study drugs (mostly aderall, coffee too) are widely used by college students to help focus and be more productive. The hyper-competitive academic environment encourages students to find ways to get an edge, and drugs are one of the easiest ways to do this. Students take these drugs without thinking about the moral implications for such actions, how such actions unfairly advantage the individual over the collective, making it so others have to take these drugs to remain competitive, like in professional sports. Of the dozens of students I’ve talked to about the morality of using study drugs, I’m the only one who feels strongly that taking these drugs is an immoral decision. My stance falls apart when people bring up coffee, a societally acceptable stimulant. Well, life is a sliding scale, what are you going to do about it? I prefer that we not ingest stimulants via pills. drinking bean juice seems better than prescription drugs.

So while I’m encouraged that humanity seems poised to jump into transhumanism and an enhanced existence, I’m also discouraged by how normal it is for my peers to take amphetamines. Perhaps this has not become a big enough issue to address, like doping in sports, but I really don’t want us to get to a crisis point in academia where the only way to make a meaningful contribution to human knowledge is by getting high on speed.

The problems I’ve explained here only really come up in the context of a competitive environment, and perhaps there is hope if capitalism collapses and we reorient our system. After all, learning and exploring should really not be a competition.

On the other hand, perhaps we will find a way to make our brains run faster without negative effects such as coming down from a drug or mental damage. It wouldn’t be so bad if we all just kept thinking faster and faster I suppose, I’m just not sure that amphetamines are a step in the right direction.



About Prometheus

I write about the coming technological singularity and its implications for our sense of identity, individuality, meaning, and existence. I argue that the most significant aspect of the singularity is the convergence of our consciousnesses into one superconsciousness, and that we should be very happy about this.

Posted on October 17, 2012, in Ethics, Technological Singularity, Values and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I like the thinking here. But you know me: “Enhancement” from the use of any drug at all has not made sense to me. Body enhancement from additional parts and transplants is very exciting when it serves a functional purpose. Facelifts (hair dyes, etc.) primarily serve a cultural purpose that (in my view) has not been thoughtfully examined. I imagine we agree about that. How beautiful – unenhanced – we are in mind and body. Love from Gaia

  2. Hello Prometheus,

    I think there are a whole host of issues we need to deal with first before we throw ourselves headlong into human enhancement. Most important is the issue of equity. Given the current differences within and between countries the costs of enhancements are bound to be prohibitive for the vast majority of people, and thus as likely to exacerbate the inequalities of capitalism as any thing else. Another is the fact that widespread enhancement may be “forced” upon people as the only way to thrive in an increasingly competitive economic environment something that your example of “academic drugs” illustrates. These are only 2 of what would certainly be a much longer list.

    Though I know you will disagree, I would be very interested in your thoughts on my recent post:

    Rick Searle

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