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Posted: January 29, 2007
On discussing nanotechnology with transhumanists
(Nanowerk News) You might have seen our news article on January 17 – Nanotechnology will reshape humanity. It was a lengthy piece about the spiritual meta-site Beliefnet's response to Nigel Cameron‘s assertions that nano-medical human enhancement would diminish our humanity (Nigel Cameron is Director of the Center on Nanotechnology and Society at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future).
It's just fair that we also show you Nigel's response to the Beliefnet article that he posted on his blog Choosing Tomorrow:
"Since my topic was nano and I mentioned transhumanists only in passing it's important to state that nano is not about transhumanism, and that concerns about potential uses and misuses of nano are part of a much bigger debate. We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting the transhumanists brand nano as "their" technology. This is technology for all of us, and if we get the policy discussion right in the next few years it may well lead to extraordinary and wholly new applications that give great human benefit.
What's more, we need to clarify where we agree and disagree. The Dvorsky Beliefnet interview states: "George Dvorsky is president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and a champion of using advanced technologies to enhance human capabilities." Well, I too want to champion "using advanced technologies to enhance human capabilities." The question is how they are enhanced and how "human" is the context for their enhancement. Unless this point is made the charge of Luddism (which is absurd) seems to stick, and the example of a pair of spectacles is enough to undercut an argument against giving our children pcs inside their heads. That is, phrases like "enhancing human capabilities" are fundamentally ambiguous. Are we talking of bringing defective capabilities up to speed, enabling the less able to perform like others can, or adding capabilities that no humans have hitherto had? What's more, while transhumanists make much of the alleged assumption of their opponents that there is a fixed "human nature," this is a straw man; it is not at all necessary to take a Procrustean view of the human to be committed to seeking the future of our species and the fulfilment of its members within the analogy of the biological, social, cultural and other dimensions that have defined us.
I am sure there are genuine Luddites around; but the seeming appeal of the strange world of the transhumanists lies in significant degree in their claim that either you are one of them or your allegiance is to Ned Ludd. This is simply fatuous. Transhumanism and Luddism are alike extremism positions that mark the boundaries of possibility. Almost all of us, and I trust the human future, lie somewhere between the two."