Forecasting a Posthuman Future: Review of Redesigning Humans and Our Posthuman Future

 

 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co. and Picador USA
ISBN#: 061806026X and 0312421710
Author: Gregory Stock and Francis Fukuyama
Year: 2003

 

 

Description:

Two recent books provide interesting contrasts in thinking about our human biological future, Redesigning Humansby Gregory Stock and Our Posthuman Futureby Francis Fukuyama, depict the years ahead for the development of human evolution.

In both of these books, the questions for the authors involve post human existence–that is the science driven modifications of homosapiens, the current evolutionary model, shaped for millennia by environmental and behavioral influences. Stock and Fukuyama believe intentional genetic alteration of humans soon will dominate the extension of human species.

Throughout his book, Stock postulates a singular theme–genetic manipulation through germ line biological change is inevitable, is already well under way and, despite setbacks in gene therapy, will engage all facts of human life in the next century. He believes that the arrival of “safe germline technology will signal the beginning of human self design.” While Stock understands that mistakes and bad outcomes in genetic manipulation will be made, as in any new development, he is convinced that we, the inhabitants of this planet, will desire many of the results of this work and that government will not erect significant barriers to its use.

While Stock is fully committed to the biological realm, he remains unconvinced by artificial intelligence, as promulgated by Ray Kurzweil and others, in which computer technology would make possible neural implants that would drastically change the communications of the human brain. By focusing his thought on our biological future, Stock feels we can make use of regular advances in technology without seeking to replace biological functions with created devices, a process called “cyborgization.” Indeed, “genetic manipulation is biology’s bid to keep pace with the rapid evolution of computer technology.”

Stock contrasts somatic gene therapy with germline interventions, believing that the technically easier path to success is through the latter. He acknowledges that somatic gene therapy, in which alteration of body cells will not affect future generations is well within the accepted medical framework but finds the process replete with difficulties not found in germline experimentation. Stock expects germline procedures to be advanced in the areas of the human genome, clinical medicine, animal transgenics and human infertility.

One area of human medicine Stock believes will be directly affected is pharmacogenetics–”tailoring pharmaceutical interventions to people’s individual genetic constitutions.” He believes animal genetic research will advance the day when the manipulation of the genetics of children is possible. Stock also sees infertility as a significant receptacle of germline research, forecasting the time when, with advanced in vitro fertilization, “people may view sex as essentially recreational and conception as something best done in the laboratory.”

Stock goes on to suggest ways in which single generation germline manipulations might be possible with the use of auxiliary chromosomes together with specifically designed drugs. He also deals with extending the human lifespan and radical approaches to AIDS treatment.

Stock is basically opposed to direct governmental control of human biological research, believing that people will desire many of its outcomes and that the market and people’s acceptance will effectively control its future direction. Stock says, “the biggest challenge we face from germline technology is not from its failure, since that would leave us where we are now. Success is what will tax our wisdom, because that would force us to come to grips with the medical, political and philosophical implications of self-directed human evolution.”

Fukuyama begins his book by referencing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a far-reaching set of predictions published in 1932. Fukuyama finds the basic core of Huxley’s work to be correct, that human nature defines our values, what is just and unjust, and that contemporary biotechnology is a significant threat because it will alter human nature and thus, create “posthuman” existence.

Fukuyama finds three directions that are now in process that will affect this posthuman future: neuropharmacology, the science of human personality drugs; the major extension of life expectancy through genetically conceived replacement body parts and direct genetic insertion; and genetic control of characteristics in human reproduction.

Before moving to discuss these directions, Fukuyama briefly recalls the work of the last century on brain science and the inheritability of intelligence, particularly noting attempts to relate genes with mental capacity. He also reviews the debate over possible links of genes with crime and the questions of homosexual/genetic linkage.

Fukuyama points to neuropharmacology with its wide commercial success with such drugs as Prozac, Zoloft and Ritalin and the promise of many more psychotropic drugs to increase the medicalization of human behavior. Neuropharmacology, with further research, exhibits the possibility of both social control by administers of the drugs and its use to achieve political correctness and societal commonness. He feels these mood and personality modifying medications demonstrate a significant direction in human specie alteration, albeit one in its early stages. He notes, “we don’t have to await the arrival of human genetic engineering to foresee a time when we will be able to enhance intelligence, memory, emotional sensitivity and sexuality, as well as reduce aggressiveness and manipulate behavior in a host of other ways.”

If biotechnology enables the significant extension of the human life span, Fukuyama predicts a whole series of political and economic manifestations. Steadily rising in the more developed countries, increased life expectancy would dramatically raise the number of persons dependent on the active, productive sector of the population. It would produce a tendency to the “feminization” of the world (because, of course, women live longer) with its effect on government in which women dominate the process and their reluctance to use of force to resolve conflicts. And it would create in the next 50 years a “postsexual” society where sexual desire is not an element for the majority of the population.

The third direction of Fukuyama’s trilogy is genetic engineering where, again, he lays a historical groundwork for speculating on possible genetic changes ahead. He is convinced that somatic and germline experimentation must and will go ahead, but he is distinctly concerned with the possibility of unintended consequences, common to a great many developments in science.

Fukuyama then goes on to describe the various sources of opposition to human biological manipulation including the reoccurring fear of uncontrolled eugenics, our ability as a people to exert reasonable control over experimental work, the worry of irreversible change in generational characteristics, and, what might be called, the basic religious position of humanity as born in the image of God and the accompanying individual dignity of each person. He is particularly strong in his condemnation of scientists who view religious objections as uninformed and likely to disappear with more education.

The remainder of the book details Fukuyama’s philosophical positions of human rights, human nature and human dignity, constructing, in his thought, a solid basis for evaluating the consequences of worldwide developments in human biotechnology. Fukuyama is fundamentally concerned with maintaining control of these ever moving advances of scientific knowledge, returning again and again to the political and social impacts which almost certainly lie ahead. He calls for the “building of institutions that can discriminate between good and bad uses of biotechnology and effectively enforce these rules both nationally and internationally.”

While both authors agree that human biotechnology offers the potential for greatly improved opportunities for control of disease, damaging hereditary characteristics and improved quality of mental and physical life, they differ sharply both on the rationale for control and the methods society should exert to construct for a post human future.

For the religious community, only Fukuyama’s book notes the position of organizations of belief, and then primarily of negative import–stop, don’t go there. Here, perhaps, is one of our greatest challenges: to build a carefully reasoned ethical argument with which to impact the march of inevitable scientific development.
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