Le train en fuite de l'amélioration cognitivdecember 11, 2019
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How far can we “enhance” our minds before we lose our sense of identity and authenticity? Eliminating negative feelings like fear and anxiety might seem like a no-brainer, but could leave us emotionally and morally stunted. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has for years sought “biomedical” tools to enable “stress resistance” and “accelerated learning” among soldiers. Would the “perfect” soldier retain the aspects of their personality that made them human?
There are also numerous ethical and societal implications, regarding issues such as fairness, meritocracy and authenticity. Increasingly prevalent and effective enhancers carry the likelihood of deepening inequality, since the wealthier in society will have early access to the most advanced drugs and neurotechnology, gaining even more of an advantage. Already-fragile notions of meritocracy would be undermined, and education systems would struggle to fairly reward high achievers. And even if smart drugs became universally accessible, it seems likely that the overworked would be pushed even harder, with the “unenhanced” left behind.
Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Innovation in cognitive enhancement, as anywhere else, can be a force for much good and should be encouraged. In any case, these problems are only hypothetical, and current use of potent enhancers is limited to relatively small sections of society. It is important that we initiate a dialogue about the risks as well as the benefits of preempting evolution.
Innovation currently moves faster than culture or even laws can handle, and we will soon lose the luxury of time to debate. Today we are dealing with stimulants that provide only temporary benefits in the short term, but with companies like Facebook and Musk’s Neuralink investing in neurotechnology, what will happen when a drug or device comes along that works? If a response comes only once the next generation of enhancers is readily available, it will be too little too late.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.