January 22, 2009

Debundling Enhancement

BiobuildingThis monday I gave a presentation at the Triple Helix event Cognitive Enhancement: Hope or Dope? with professors Barbara Sahakian and Michael Langford.

Langford, not being part of the enhancement debate business, made a very nice presentation where he pointed out that in many cases religious and secular views (and for that matter, different ethical views) tend to reach the same conclusions in the vast majority of issues. There is a pretty broad shared rationality. His main concern was that "enhancement" has a normative content, and we might be imposing that normative content without thinking when we enhance. I think there is a great deal of truth to that, but it is not an indictment of enhancement but rather to do it uncritically.

The problem is that doing "critical enhancement" requires a lot of work: knowing what the enhancer does, how it fits my lifestyle and biology, seeing the context and so on. Most people do not have the time or interest to figure that out, they just want to become "better". So it is likely that we will be seeing enhancements packaged into suitable bundles that also carry assumptions and biases it might be hard to get away from. This is of course similar to any other technology: iphones, linux installations, model railroads or SUVs all come with bundled assumptions. This is why we need open standards: so that people who want to debundle technologies to fit their choices and goals have a chance of doing it.

The problem might be that the broad shared rationality across a culture provides a biased backdrop that makes even open standards produce biased results: very few people deviate strongly from the shared rationality. This is why it might be extremely fruitful to look at how enhancers (or other technology) is used across cultures, especially if it is misused from the perspective of one culture.

Posted by Anders3 at January 22, 2009 06:59 PM