“A great science fiction detective story” - Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
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Four British professional and scientific bodies–the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society–have gone public with their alarm over the potential pitfalls of augmented humanity in a joint report entitled Human Enhancement and the Future of Work. (BBC news item, Telegraph news item)
Illustration of augmentation attributed to the fictional company Sarif Industries in the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The report may be alarmist–I’ll know better once I’ve had a chance to read it–but whatever else it does, it underscores a genuine issue: technologies to enhance natural human beings and create artificial ones are advancing far more rapidly than our practical framework for thinking about them.
I don’t mean our technological thought, I mean our social, political, and philosophical thought. We need–very quickly–to create a far more developed outlook on how these technical advances will affect other aspects of our lives.
If we look just at the issue of longevity, the issues proliferate quickly:
- What will happen to actuarial science and the insurance industry when human lifespan advances far more dramatically than it’s done in the past and over a relatively short period of time?
- What happens to the time scales of other social instituations, such a prison sentences, when human lifespan is significantly increased? Does five years in prison have the same meaning if I live twice as long?
- What happens to human attitudes toward risk-taking (in many different spheres) in a world of drastically extended lives? Will I be less willing to engage in risky activity if I know that what I stand to lose isn’t another twenty years of life but another hundred?
- How will increased lifespan affect our patterns of work, training, and retirement over the span of our lives?
- How might it change the shape of the family when grandparents–and even great-grandparents–are youthful, healthy, and capable of working and caring for children? Will our ability to conceive and bear children also be extended, and if so, how will that affect the structure of the family?
- And how will increased lifespan interact with changes arising from other quarters? The traditional family structure may change as lifespan and vitality are extended, but it’s already changing for other reasons, for instance as attitudes toward gay and lesbian marriage and parenthood evolve. Changes in longevity might well mix with changes that spring from other sources in ways that are difficult to predict until both changes are in effect and have a chance to affect one another.
If you want to go beyond pre-digested news items, none of which seem to link to the report itself, I’ve made it available in the Homo Artificialis Library (HAL) under the subheading Homo Artificialis at Work.
Click image to go to the Homo Artificialis Library (HAL)