The Case for Enhancing People

Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues for using biotech, nanotech, and infotech to enhance human physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities


Editor's Note: As part of a symposium at the "Stuck with Virtue" conference at Berry College in Georgia earlier this year, Reason Science Correpondent Ronald Bailey argued for using biotech, infotech, and nanotech to enhance human intellectual, phyiscal, and emotional capabilities. His essay, along with responses, has now been published in the current issue of The New Atlantis. An excerpt begins below:

Does the enhancement of human physical and intellectual capacities undermine virtue?

In answering this question, we must first make a distinction between therapy and enhancement. Therapeutic technologies are meant to restore impaired or degraded human capacities to some more normal level. By contrast, any enhancements would alter human functioning beyond the normal.

We must also keep in mind that, whatever we think about them, enhancements are going to happen. Age-retardation or even age-reversal are prime targets for research, but other techniques aimed at preventing disease and boosting memory, intelligence, and physical strength will also be developed.

Much worried attention is focused particularly on the possibility of achieving these and other enhancements through genetic engineering; that will indeed one day happen. But the fastest advances in enhancement will occur using pharmaceutical and biomedical interventions to modulate and direct the activity of existing genes in the bodies of people who are already alive. These will happen alongside the development of human-machine interfaces that will extend and boost human capacities.

Contrary to oft-expressed concerns, we will find, first, that enhancements will better enable people to flourish; second, that enhancements will not dissolve whatever existential worries people have; third, that enhancements will enable people to become more virtuous; fourth, that people who don't want enhancement for themselves should allow those of us who do to go forward without hindrance; fifth, that concerns over an "enhancement divide" are largely illusory; and sixth, that we already have at hand the social "technology," in the form of protective social and political institutions, that will enable the enhanced and the unenhanced to dwell together in peace. …

Go here to read the whole essay.