Identity disorder and the future of technology

Polymath physician Dr Ray Tallis has written an optimistic article in the latest edition of Philosophy Now magazine arguing that human technological enhancement is over-hyped but no reason for fear.

Tallis is a professor of geriatric medicine, so it’s no surprise that he sees some of the most applicable benefits of technological advances for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Critics have suggested that using technology to enhance human abilities, whether by drugs, implants or genetics, will lead to an erosion of our sense of identity.

Tallis looks back on past promises and argues that this is unlikely to be the case:

The most often repeated claim is that we are on the verge of technological breakthroughs – in genetic engineering, in pharmacotherapy and in the replacement of biological tissues (either by cultured tissues or by electronic prostheses) – which will dramatically transform our sense of what we are and will thereby threaten our humanity. A little bit of history may be all that is necessary to pour cooling water on fevered imaginations.

In 1960, leading computer scientists, headed by the mighty Marvin Minsky, predicted that by 1990 we would have developed computers so smart that they would not even treat us with the respect due to household pets. Our status would be consequently diminished. Anyone seen any of those? Smart drugs that would transform our consciousness have been expected for 50 years, but nothing yet has matched the impact of alcohol, peyote, cocaine, opiates, or amphetamines, which have been round a rather long time.

As well as making some telling philosophical points, the article is quite funny in places, as Tallis uses some of his literary skills to good effect.

Link to Philosophy Now article ‘Enhancing Humanity’.

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