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Prepare now for a society of 'designer humans'

A public debate is needed now about the potential for new technologies to make us 'better than human' according to a report published this week (Thursday 8 February) by Demos and the Wellcome Trust.

Better Humans? The politics of enhancement and life extension brings together brings together contributions from scientists, social scientists and writers, including Professor Sarah Franklin, associate director of the BIOS centre at LSE.   

The report argues that policy makers and the public must address the consequences of technologies to enhance the human mind and body, including memory-enhancing drugs, genetic selection of children, and dramatic increases in life expectancy.

These technologies have radical policy implications, such as the potential for widespread use of memory enhancing drugs in schools and universities, and the need for dramatic increases in the state retirement age.

Demos argues that recent developments in a number of areas of science and technology could lead to radical changes in the human condition. The authors make a number of policy proposals to respond to the emergence of human enhancement and life extension technologies. These include:

  • The establishment of a Schools and Universities Anti-Doping Agency, modelled on the World Anti-Doping Agency, to keep our education system free from enhancement drugs.
  • The need for government to consider a retirement age 'escalator' much steeper than that envisaged by Lord Turner's Pensions Commission , with the potential for a state retirement age of 80 or even 90 within our lifetime.
  • The establishment of a Commission on Emerging Technologies and Society, to actively engage the public in a wider debate about the political, social and ethical issues raised by new technologies.

The collection brings together contributions from scientists, social scientists and writers who explore these developments and their social implications. Contributions include:

  • Steven Rose, the prominent neuroscientist, on the use of brain-imaging and artificial intelligence in the 'war of terror';
  • An interview with Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge scientist, who believes that first person to reach 1000 years old may already be alive;
  • Raj Persaud, the psychiatrist and television commentator, on why enhancement won't necessarily make us happier;
  • Nick Bostrom, the Oxford philosopher and chair of the World Transhumanist Association, who argues that within 50 years, machine intelligence will surpass the human brain;
  • Sarah Franklin, anthropologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, on the political and ethical debate surrounding 'designer babies'.

These issues will also be debated at a major international conference on human enhancement and life extension, being held at Oxford University from 14-17 March 2006.

Ends

Notes:

Professor Franklin gave her inaugural lecture on 24 November on The Reproductive Revolution: how far have we come? 

An international conference on human enhancement is taking place at Oxford University from 14-17 March 2006. Organised by the James Martin Institute, the conference will bring together scientists, ethicists and policymakers to explore the implications of these developments.

10 February 2006

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