Nanotechnology for cognitive enhancement: okay or not

Cognitive enhancement technologies already exist — if you drink coffee, you’re a user — so it seems likely that nanotechnology will eventually be used for this purpose. A new report (pdf) from the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at ASU summarizes the results of a workshop on this topic held with Sandia. They identified four main policy pathways:

• Laissez-faire – emphasizes freedom of individuals to seek and employ enhancement technologies based on their own judgment;
• Managed technological optimism – believes that while these technologies promise great benefits, such benefits cannot emerge without an active government role;
• Managed technological skepticism – views that the quality of life arises more out of society’s institutions than its technologies; and
• Human Essentialism – starts with the notion of a human essence (whether Godgiven or evolutionary in origin) that should not be modified.

I have only skimmed this 32-page report so far, but I noticed a graph that seems wrong. On page 21 the four pathways are charted on an axis of “Pluralistic democratic discourse” versus “Elite decision making”. All four pathways are charted on the Pluralistic democratic discourse side, but Laissez-faire is shown as closer than the others to the Elite decision making side. This does not seem to make sense to me at all. The other three involve far more elite (government) decision making. This would have been clearer if the axis had been labeled “Individual decision making” versus “Elite decision making”.

After all, no matter how much pluralistic democratic discourse there is, what matters ultimately is who makes the decisions on whether you are allowed to drink coffee (or use other enhancement technologies). Your views on this are welcome, as always. —Christine

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