Human enhancement is nothing new, declares this British science writer; it began almost as soon as our ancestors came out of the trees.
People have been improving on biology since the days of stone tools, posits Clegg (The Man Who Stopped Time: The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge—Pioneer Photographer, Father of the Motion Picture, Murderer, 2007, etc.). The imperatives of staying alive, reproducing, defending themselves, improving their brains and healing injuries led our ancestors to adopt various strategies that separated them from animals. Clegg devotes a chapter to each imperative. Cheating death began with the use of cave shelters and fire to keep predators at bay. Now, if the predictions of Ray Kurzweil are valid, indefinitely long life spans may be within our reach through genetic manipulation and the use of microbots to repair our bodies from within. Making ourselves attractive to the opposite sex leads from simple cosmetics to complex bodily modifications; cosmetic surgery is only the beginning. Sticks and stones extend our reach and power, but almost as long as we’ve been human we’ve also been using subtler tools: language, fire, domestic animals. Brain enhancement can be as simple as the morning coffee that gives us the ability to concentrate. Less obvious memory-enhancement techniques include visualization; down the road, we may be able to absorb knowledge directly, like loading software on a computer. Medicine has come a long way, but such aids to the injured as crutches date to ancient times, eyeglasses at least to the Renaissance. In time, we may be able to use mechanical aids on a much more radical level, making ourselves amalgams of organism and computer. Clegg is skeptical of radical predictions such as the Singularity, that point at which unmodified humans become obsolete, replaced by more advanced computerized brains. Nonetheless, he persuasively argues that enhancement is inevitable, and in fact one of the most central characteristics of our species. Human 2.0 is already here.
A readable, idea-packed look at the outer limits of human potential.