Humanity's End

Humanity's End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement

Nicholas Agar
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Humanity's End
    Book Description:

    Proposals to make us smarter than the greatest geniuses or to add thousands of years to our life spans seem fit only for the spam folder or trash can. And yet this is what contemporary advocates of radical enhancement offer in all seriousness. They present a variety of technologies and therapies that will expand our capacities far beyond what is currently possible for human beings. In Humanity's End, Nicholas Agar argues against radical enhancement, describing its destructive consequences. Agar examines the proposals of four prominent radical enhancers: Ray Kurzweil, who argues that technology will enable our escape from human biology; Aubrey de Grey, who calls for anti-aging therapies that will achieve "longevity escape velocity"; Nick Bostrom, who defends the morality and rationality of enhancement; and James Hughes, who envisions a harmonious democracy of the enhanced and the unenhanced. Agar argues that the outcomes of radical enhancement could be darker than the rosy futures described by these thinkers. The most dramatic means of enhancing our cognitive powers could in fact kill us; the radical extension of our life span could eliminate experiences of great value from our lives; and a situation in which some humans are radically enhanced and others are not could lead to tyranny of posthumans over humans.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28912-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 What Is Radical Enhancement?
    (pp. 1-16)

    Suppose someone makes you the following offer: They will boost your intellect to such an extent that your cognitive achievements far exceed those of Einstein, Picasso, Mozart, or any of our familiar exemplars of genius. You’ll have a huge range of new experiences much more marvelous than climbing Mt. Everest, being present at full orchestra performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or consuming peyote. You’ll live for thousands of years. And the years you will gain won’t have the diminished quality of those that modern medicine tends to provide. There’ll be no need for oxygen bottles, Zimmer frames, bifocals, or any...

  5. 2 Radical Enhancement and Posthumanity
    (pp. 17-34)

    Radical enhancement involves improving significant capacities to a degree that greatly exceeds what is currently possible for humans. The chief debating examples in the philosophical literature on enhancement involve cases of what I will callmoderate enhancement. Suppose parents were able to genetically alter their children, making them as smart as the genius physicist Albert Einstein, or as good at tennis as the Swiss maestro Roger Federer. Such cases are correctly viewed as enhancements because they produce capacities considerably beyond the norm for humans—there’s a big gap between Einstein and Federer and ordinary physicists and tennis players. But they...

  6. 3 The Technologist—Ray Kurzweil and the Law of Accelerating Returns
    (pp. 35-56)

    Ray Kurzweil predicts that we’ll soon be enhancing our intellects a billion-fold and living as long as we want. These developments are consequences of the Singularity—“a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”¹ According to Kurzweil, there’s little that’s optional about the Singularity. It’s not something that just might happen. Rather, it’s an almost inevitable consequence of the law of accelerating returns, a law that dictates that technologies advance at an ever increasing rate. Kurzweil presents the Singularity as an event in...

  7. 4 Is Uploading Ourselves into Machines a Good Bet?
    (pp. 57-82)

    The law of accelerating returns specifies that technologies become more powerful at an ever-increasing rate. Far from being exceptions to the law, our minds are among its most important applications. The message from AI is that anything done by the brain can be done better by electronic chips. According to Kurzweil, those who grasp this message will progressively trade neurons for neuroprostheses. When the transfer of mind into machine is complete, our minds will be free to follow the trajectory of accelerating improvement currently tracked by wireless Internet routers and portable DVD players. We’ll soon become millions and billions of...

  8. 5 The Therapist—Aubrey de Greyʹs Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence
    (pp. 83-106)

    Shakespeare chose a comedy to present one of the most unpleasant facts about human existence. InAs You Like Ithe has Jacques describe life as a play made up of seven acts. The first act casts us in the role of the infant, “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.” We progress to whining schoolboys (or schoolgirls) with our satchels, and graduate to the roles of lover and soldier. Life’s seventh and final act is a “second childishness” followed by “mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Perhaps most depressing of all—this is a...

  9. 6 Who Wants to Live Forever?
    (pp. 107-132)

    In the 2000 remake of the 1967 movieBedazzled, the devil, played by Liz Hurley, offers to help Eliot Richards, a romantically ill-fated loser played by Brendan Frazer. She will grant seven wishes in exchange for his immortal soul. Eliot accepts and makes the obvious first wish to be rich and powerful. The devil gives him money and power … as a drug lord whose wife despises him and whose business partners are plotting to kill him. The NBA basketball stardom he wishes for comes with a very small penis and an exceedingly low IQ. The devil grants Eliot’s desire...

  10. 7 The Philosopher—Nick Bostrom on the Morality of Enhancement
    (pp. 133-150)

    So far we’ve focused on the technologies of radical enhancement. We turn now to the writings of transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom.

    Bostrom’s philosophical defense of radical enhancement is twofold. First, he claims that many arguments against enhancement rely on a fallacy. Identifying this fallacy has the effect of philosophically disarming many of enhancement’s opponents, opening up the options of radical intellectual enhancement and life extension to those who wish to pursue them. This leaves unanswered the question of whether we should actuallywantto radically enhance ourselves. There are many options that should be available to the citizens of a...

  11. 8 The Sociologist—James Hughes and the Many Paths of Moral Enhancement
    (pp. 151-178)

    TheX-Menmovies depict the interactions between humans and a disparate collection of genetic mutants that have emerged, all of a sudden, from our species. The mutated DNA of this new breed of beings—the X-men—gives them a bewildering variety of somewhat implausible superhuman abilities, including mind-reading, the manipulation of metallic objects by thought alone, and miraculous self-healing. The humans are, in general, suspicious of these accidental posthumans and pass laws to keep them in check. Among the mutants, there are two schools of thought about humans. One view is represented by Magneto, played in the movies by Sir...

  12. 9 A Species-Relativist Conclusion about Radical Enhancement
    (pp. 179-198)

    I’ve been arguing that the reality of radically enhanced intellects and extended life spans does not match their initial appeal. We should fear that Kurzweil’s plan to make us super-intelligent and quasi-immortal will kill us. De Grey’s therapies may give us more years but they’ll also turn us into fundamentally different kinds of beings with very different fears and fancies. Bostrom’s arguments concerning the desirability of radical enhancement and the irrationality of rejecting it fall short. Finally, Hughes’s reassurances about relations between posthumans and humans work better as moral philosophy directing how we should treat nonhuman persons than they do...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-219)