Prosthetics, doping, computer implants: we take every upgrade we can get. But what is waiting for us at the finish line?
Today, improvements in cognitive pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering and high-tech prostheses inspire some to dream of a future of accelerating species enhancement, reaching a point where we will have become — what? Übermenschen? Cyborgs? Post-humans? Or just better versions of ourselves?
In Emily Sargent’s artfully curated exhibition, Superhuman, at the Wellcome Trust in London this summer, sci-fi visions of future improvements were presented side-by-side with artifacts from the history of human enhancement.4
‘I’m mystified by the resistance that human enhancement faces,’ Harris writes in the Superhuman exhibition catalogue. ‘I think many people have a horror of playing God, but if they reflected on how bad a job God was doing most of the time, they would lose that horror.’
But the most revealingly naive prediction was this, scheduled to come true a mere 18 years from now: ‘The ability to control the genetics of humans, animals, and agricultural plants will greatly benefit human welfare; widespread consensus about ethical, legal, and moral issues will be built in the process.’
This is truly a marvellous apogee of technocratic utopianism. Global agreement on ‘ethical, legal, and moral’ issues has been out of reach for all of recorded human civilisation, at least through the traditional means of reasoning and persuasion. Just because we might become as gods with regard to the molecular building blocks of life doesn’t mean we won’t continue to bicker and squabble. After all, that’s just what communities of gods spend most of their time doing in polytheistic mythologies. Or perhaps we are meant to read this future consensus as one propagated by morally improving chemistry.