Our Posthuman Future?

Francis Fukuyama has pondered the consequences of biotechnology in his book from 2002 called Our Posthuman Future. Again it is kind of the end of something. The air of the book is skeptical. He sees problems where I see opportunity.

The progress in molecular biology continues to be record breaking. One way of improving our situation, that might still be a little science fictionesque, is to speed up evolution of positive traits. How would it be, for example, to start producing humans that lack aggression at the current levels. In my humble mind and with my experience this could actually be done today by neuropharmacology, which Fukuyama might be calling the technology that no one dares to talk about.

If you are a fan of Hegel, however, this might mean that we rob future men of the experiences that deepen their personalities. It would, as Fukuyama points out, be dangerous to remove too much of human nature without saving some of the old varieties.

Another development is Artificial Intelligence. Fukuyama is pessimistic on the birth of consciousness in computers. I also have a feeling that the water-based computation that the brain does might be necessary and unique but I would really like to see us reaching the "singularity", where it would be possible to download one's mind in a computer and continue living forever with a potentially sharper intellect and a tremendous memory. A shortcut in evolution. Human nature will change and a new species would be born. A political concern would be who should be in control. The new species or the old one.

It remains very interesting to speculate on what regular evolution would do with our intellects. What kind of human we would have in 1m years. It is 60,000 years since Homo sapiens left Africa the first time and most people do not think there is any significant genetic differences between now and then. The work they are doing in Germany on the Neanderthal DNA might shed some light on this. Is there an upper limit in the intelligence that is possible to create on the current platform? This would be interesting to know because perhaps the new man made evolution via computers would be the only way of significantly improving our position.

Stem cell research has great potential but is hampered by problems with so called innocent life. The use of embryos for research should in my opinion not be problematic. Due to the unfortunate atrocities of war, we have learned that mental retardation in children from mothers living through the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings happened between week 8 to 15. This should mean that the nervous system is assembled during this time and that no functioning brain which could give rise to human life, ie pain and sorrow, could be present earlier than this period. An embryo is just cells like those in your finger, which actually also has potential for life today via cloning. The Catholic Church actually has a dogma that stipulates that life begins with sperm/egg fusion which is problematic today anyhow because life can be produced via cloning bypassing the fusion of sperm and egg.

Despite a continuous rise of the GDP per capita in the West people have not become happier. Are we wasting GDP or is science benefitting from the improvement and can deliver solutions to the stagnation in experienced happiness? Fukuyama describes how we take drugs like Prozac to improve our life. Stability is a problem these days and it is interesting that Fukuyama predicted the Arab Spring in principle by stating that demographic research says we would have old women deciding in Europe with angry young men in the Middle East. It is problematic, of course, with a giant computer dispensing wellbeing to the masses of Europe to prevent people from demonstrating in the streets and to care less about hardship. The question is how tempting it would be in the name of Peace.

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