Monday, April 16, 2007

Hovering on the brink of the end

I know I seem to be returning to the topic of the end of the human race a little frequently lately but I've just caught an article over on the BBC that I see as related. The story is about the use of memory and cognition enhancing drugs, like Modafinil, already in use to boost mental performance. The article contains some quotes from some worried people:

"If, in the future, there are cognition tablets for exams and I wasn't happy for my children to take them, would I be disadvantaging them against those children that actually take them?" said a woman responding to an Academy of Medical Sciences study on these drugs.

My answer to that is yes, of course you are. It's pretty much the same as if your child is competing in a bicycle race and you aren't happy for them to use a model with a light weight frame and quality gears and other components. You are disadvantaging your children against those that are accepting the advantages that science makes available to them. If the drugs provide a benefit, denying them to your children is a disadvantage to your children. If the drugs do not provide a benefit then there's no reason to give them.

Then we have this comment from a respondent to the same study:

"In the future do you want one of those dictatorial type states where we have to take drugs to get better and faster to work longer hours?"

More fear of progress and it is worthy of note that people were similarly suspicious of the telephone, the pocket watch, and an impressive number of other inventions that we enjoy the utility of quite freely nowadays. But there's a more interesting way to answer all of this technofear that has nothing to do with preference.

Let's imagine for a second that the answer everybody in a country, for example the USA, gives to the above respondents question is a firm no. The government would then pass laws banning the production, sale and consumption of mental performance enhancers and making the wild assumption that a black market supply did not become ubiquitous what do you think would happen? Well, the key factor would be whether or not the drugs provided a significant benefit, and it looks likely that they do – which is why the first respondent fears disadvantaging her children. So, we have a technology that provides a significant benefit being outlawed in one nation and not used. It stands to reason therefore that those countries that adopt the drugs will develop a competitive advantage since their workers will be smarter, better problem solvers. Whether this first generation of cognitive enhancers provide enough of an advantage to greatly effect international competition or not is irrelevant. Sooner or later a more advanced generation of brain boosters will and so resistance to a performance enhancing technology will ultimately lead to reduction in a society's ability to compete. So if the USA prohibits these drugs and China adopts them, China will eventually rule.

There is no difference between these drugs and brain enhancing computer technologies except that the computer based technologies are likely to be far more powerful than any drug could ever be because they will give us the ability to interface with machines and so redesign parts of our brains as opposed to just enhance their operation. Coupled with the fact that life is competitive there really is only one way to go. Some will no doubt take the Amish route and try to opt out, subjectively considering one particular moment of technological progress "natural" and others will not. The others, those that adopt and adapt to progress will out compete the troglodytes and eventually the troglodytes will be gone. Some people may object to that, but I think it is also quite realistic. It is one thing to allow a way of life to be preserved and quite another to allow a way of life that does damage to the greater community to be preserved and any technologically retarded group will end up inflicting damage on the technology adopters even if it is only by requiring resources that the adopters want to use. Not to mention of course that we will pretty soon figure out that just because someone was born into a culture it does not give them the right to cripple their offspring with its burden of consequences in continuing it. Or do we really think it will be moral in one thousands years time to let pigmies limit their children's lives to a scrap of preserved forest when the rest of us have seen the surfaces of other worlds?

I think not. Progress will be enforced by competition and the charity that works against that will eventually dry up, faced with the realisation that preserving cultures equates to preserving the fate of those we allow to be born as prisoners of a culture and its inherent restrictions and limitations that the rest of us left gratefully behind.

If you enjoyed this article please feel free to digg it down below.


Stew said...

A real benefit will come when we can figure out how to get the body to metabolise a chemical like that all by itself.

I want upgrades!

Will we still be homo-sapiens with our mobile phone gps implants and drug enhanced cerubrums? (cerubra?)
Am I more or less homo-sapiens than my ancestors with my glasses, bridgework, ventolin inhaler and pacemaker? (OK, I haven't really got a pacemaker)

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Stew - I want upgrades too. I can't imagine the down side of being more capable. And I do recognise that we have been upgrading ourselves since we first covered out skins with that of an animal. But I don't think we are going to remain human much longer and I don't think the drugs are going to have nearly the same impact as replacement parts and computer based brain extensions.

Let me ask you one thing. When your original components are outperformed by "artificial" components the same competitive drivers apply to their adoption, so what happens when the last original component also has superior artificial component available to replace it?

In my opinion, that is the end game and the point at which homo sapiens sapiens ceases to exist. I know some people think I am odd for this but I'm looking forward to it. The possibilities for life become potentially infinite.