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The Age of Enhancement

March 4, 2013

The ethics of enhancement is well worth looking into if you’re still searching for a term-paper topic. Slate has a nice piece this morning. Here are the first two paragraphs.

In the summer of 1935, a pair of Bavarian climbers arrived in the Bernese Alps, hoping to become the first people ever to scale the monstrous north face of the mountain known as the Eiger. On their first day, they made good progress. On the second day, less so, and on the third, even less. Then a storm swept over the mountain and they froze to death. The next year, four more mountaineers attempted the face, and all four died. After a third failed attempt in 1937, a quartet of climbers finally reached the summit in 1938, taking three days to get there.
Twelve years and many more fatalities later, a pair of climbers managed to surmount the Eiger in 18 hours. The 1960s saw the first successful solo climb. In 1988, Alison Hargreaves climbed the Eiger while six months pregnant. By the 1990s, people were making the climb in the dead of winter. In 2008, Swiss climber Euli Steck speed-climbed the peak, solo, in winter, in 2 hours, 47 minutes, and 33 seconds. You can watch the video. Last month, a trio of Brits stood on a ledge near the top of the Eiger, then spread their arms and legs like wings and flew down.

Read the rest here. Nick Bostrom and Rebecca Roache have a good overview of the ethics of enhancement which was published a few years ago in Palgrave’s New Waves in Applied Ethics.

Human enhancement has emerged in recent years as a blossoming topic in applied ethics. With continuing advances in science and technology, people are beginning to realize that some of the basic parameters of the human condition might be changed in the future. One important way in which the human condition could be changed is through the enhancement of basic human capacities. If this becomes feasible within the lifespan of many people alive today, then it is important now to consider the normative questions raised by such prospects. The answers to these questions might not only help us be better prepared when technology catches up with imagination, but they may be relevant to many decisions we make today, such as decisions about how much funding to give to various kinds of research

The whole thing is available on Bostrom’s website. You might also have a look at this trailer for FIXED, though I can’t find much information about it.

(Ironically enough, the link needs to be fixed. I’ll try again later.)

In a way, comic books have been on the leading edge of the exploration of the ethics of enhancement through fiction. Captain America is one good example, and Spider Man is another. At their best, they ask questions about how making ourselves better (for lack of a better word) with regard to certain aspects of our lives can alienate us from others and even our own nature.

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