Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, May 14, 2009

War, what's it good for? - Will designer brains divide humanity?

New Scientist - May 13, 2009, by Andy Coghlan

Would tweaking human brains widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots? (Image: Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty)

WE ARE on the brink of technological breakthroughs that could augment our mental powers beyond recognition. It will soon be possible to boost human brainpower with electronic "plug-ins" or even by genetic enhancement. What will this mean for the future of humanity?

This was the theme of a recent Neuroscience in Context meeting in Berlin, Germany, where anthropologists, technologists, neurologists, archaeologists and philosophers met to consider the implications of this next stage of human brain development. Would it widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots - and perhaps even lead to a distinct and dominant species with unmatchable powers of intellect?

One view is that this is merely the next phase in a process that has been taking place throughout human history. Humans have always played an active role in improving their own brainpower, says Lambros Malafouris of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, UK, who was one of the organisers of the Berlin meeting. It began with inherited gene mutations that gave us uniquely "plastic" brains, capable of changing physically to meet hitherto unassailable intellectual and practical challenges.

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