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Posted: Jul 30, 2008

The debate about converging technologies: Human Enhancement

Previous chapter: Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research
In the third option, which was also referred to in a completed project on brain research conducted by the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament, the focus would lie on the so-called human-enhancement technologies (HET). The task would be to systematically identify their risks and potential, including according to issues related to our images of man and of society. Precisely this is an area where an early social dialogue appears desirable. So far such a dialogue has been isolated and very infrequently has taken the convergence perspective into consideration.  
In particular with a view to the EU level and to current activities of the German government, it would be inappropriate to limit the concept of convergence to technologies for enhancing human performance and for improving properties of humans. Since the technologies that come into question (e.g., in the area of neuroelectric interfaces) exhibit a relatively high degree of convergence, it is conceivable that the topic could be embedded in CT steps. Thus, human enhancement could be considered as an aspect of CT development. In this case, one field of systematic study should be which medically therapeutic potential these technologies have and which consequences there would be if HET were treated as a growth area in regard to non-therapeutic luxury applications, lifestyle applications, and mass applications.  
Furthermore, it appears appropriate to differentiate more strongly between the different forms of HET. On the one hand, the more conventional pharmaceutical and surgical enhancements should be distinguished from the more radical possibilities in a direction that are on the horizon or emerging or present only in visions. On the other hand, certain aspects offer themselves as focal topics, in particular HET to compensate for disabilities and in prospective military uses, including the ongoing activities in the area of research for military and security purposes (especially in the United States).  
These two possible areas of focus happen to not only be the fields in which most of the concrete research and funding action is located, but also those where the most urgent ethical and social questions arise. It would be possible to distinguish conceptionally between a tool or aid (e.g., night-vision goggles) on the one hand and devices firmly attached to the body or implanted on the other, between long-term or permanent improvements in performance and temporary increased performance (e.g., using drugs). Human enhancement in the strictest sense would then only mean long-term effective or permanent modifications aimed at improving human performance which are brought about by interventions in the human body made possible by science and technology.
Next chapter: Social Discourse on Science and Technology
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