January 26, 2006
Debate on whether we should be Post-human
This month’s episode of Reason Online has a debate titled, “Who’s Afraid of Human Enhancement? A Reason debate on the promise, perils, and ethics of human biotechnology.” The question really involves whether we as a society can deal with the ethics involved with human enhancement, including: “cloning; stem-cell research; processes to increase longevity, intelligence, and physical abilities; and many other procedures at various stages of development..”
The debate was framed this way: “What was once the province of science fiction—human beings augmented to such a degree that they become “post-human”—is rapidly becoming fact. Indeed, one of our panelists tonight will even argue that within the next century death itself may become optional. These are the sorts of developments that fill some with hope and others with horror.”
As to where I come down, I’m afraid my thoughts on this are mixed. Part of me, a big part in fact, worries that those working towards making designer babies and bio-engineered fruit, and self-healing drugs exhibit incredible hubris to think that they can in effect play God and “design” society by making us post-human. Another part of me thinks that the increasing nature positive feedback cycle (meaning deviating from an initial goal state) that is the co-evolution of man and his tools is going to continue whether we like it or not - our best hope is to prepare for it.
Then, of course, there’s the “cyberpunk” side of me that worries that even if we can create a perfect post-human being, corporate control and other societal nasties will truly make the transformation post-human into hell on earth. Just because its possible to use technology for the betterment of mankind, does NOT mean we will. Again, I don’t mind corporations making money over their discoveries - this is not what I’m about. The larger concern is the overall impact that the actions of each individual corporation working in their own interests amount to in a larger, non-linear global marketplace. Eventually, as with most positive feedback cycles, they go past the thresholds of possible control. What happens then is anyone’s guess, which, incidentally, is exactly what these guys are doing guessing. Still, its a well done debate. They even have a nice mp3 of the event.