Future Tense, one of the revolving features on this page, presents stories
from the intersection of computational science and technological speculation,
their boundaries limited only by our ability to imagine what will and could be.
Technologies powerful enough to modify our minds, memories,
metabolisms, personalities, and progeny are powerful enough
to transform our own evolution.
in 1913, the
U.S. Government prosecuted Lee De Forest for telling investors
that his company, RCA, would soon
be able to transmit the human voice
across the Atlantic. This claim was so
preposterous, prosecutors asserted,
that he was obviously swindling potential investors. He was ultimately
released, but not before being lectured by the judge to stop making any
more fraudulent claims.
With this legal reasoning in mind,
consider the scenarios I describe here.
They are not predictions but meant
to be credible portrayals of possible
near-term futures, factually grounded
in computer-enabled technologies,
all unquestionably under development today.
Flash forward 15 years. Look at the
girl who is today your second-grade
daughter. Imagine she is just home
for the holidays. You were so proud
of her when she not only put herself
through Ohio State but graduated
summa cum laude. Now she has taken on her most formidable challenge
yet: competing with her generation’s
elite in her fancy new law school. You
want to hear all about it. But the difference between this touching tableau and those of the past is that in it,
technologies designed to modify our
minds, memories, metabolisms, personalities, progeny—indeed, what it
means to be human—are now pouring onto the market. She is competing against all those with the will and
wherewithal to adopt them.
“What are your classmates like,
honey?,” you say.
“They’re all really, really smart,”
she says. How, she wonders, does she
explain what the enhanced kids are
like? She knows her parents have read
about what’s going on. But actually
dealing with some of her new classmates is decidedly strange. These enhanced students have amazing thinking abilities. They’re not only faster
and more creative than anybody she’s
ever met but faster and more creative
than anybody she’s ever imagined.
They have photographic memories
and total recall. They devour books
in minutes. They’re also beautiful,
They talk casually about living a
long time, perhaps forever, always discussing their “next lives.” One mentions how, after he makes his pile as
What really matters
is not how many
connect but how
humans we connect.
a lawyer, he plans to be a glassblower,
after which he wants to be a nanosur-geon.
Another fell while jogging, opening up a nasty gash on her knee. But
instead of rushing to a hospital, she
just stared at the wound, focusing her
mind on it, triggering a metabolic cascade that caused the bleeding simply
to stop. This same friend had been
vaccinated against acute pain so she
didn’t feel it for long anyway.
They always seem to be connected
to one another, sharing their thoughts
no matter how far apart, with no apparent gear. They call it “silent messaging.” It seems almost like telepathy.
They have this odd habit of cocking
their heads in a certain way whenever
they want to access information, as if
waiting for a wireless delivery to arrive; inevitably, it does. They don’t
sleep for a week or more at a time and
joke about getting rid of the beds in
their cramped dorm rooms.
They are unfailingly polite when
your daughter can’t keep up with their
conversations, as if she were deficient
in some way. They can’t help but condescend, however, when she protests
that embedded technology is not natural for humans.
They’ve nicknamed her “Natural,”
which is what they call all those who
could be like them but choose not to
be, referring to themselves as “
Enhanced.” Those with neither the education nor the money to consider keeping
up with the exploding augmentation
technologies [ContinUeD on p. 110]