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More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement    by Ramez Naam order for
More Than Human
by Ramez Naam
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In his Introduction to More Than Human, Ramez Naam tells us about exciting biotechnology research to extend life, cure disease, and enhance human abilities, both physical and mental. He makes a passionate argument against the bioconservative viewpoint, saying that the urge to transform ourselves is 'a natural outgrowth of our human intelligence, curiosity, and drive.'

He continues to discuss possibilities for physical enhancement, citing the case of a little girl, Ashanti, born with a crippled immune system, whose life was saved by a gene-therapy trial. He discusses the potential of gene therapy 'to cure diseases or to enhance or sculpt our bodies' for better quality of life. A clear explanation of gene therapy risks compares a genome to a book, genes to paragraphs, and looks at implications of where a new paragraph (gene) is inserted. Naam goes on to discuss research into mental enhancement - the promise of gene therapy against Alzheimer's, to improve learning and memory, for pain management, to prevent alcoholism, and so on. He compares this to current ubiquitous use of mental enhancers like Adderall, Ritalin, and anti-depressants.

In 'Created Equal', Naam gives his reasons for believing the ultimate cost of biotechnology will be within common reach - essentially, that human enhancement technology is cheap to manufacture. He discusses societal implications of a longer life span, tied to research that has increased the lives of species such as mice and fruit flies, and other research that shows the benefit of 'caloric restriction' in improved longevity and health. Naam predicts seeing 'therapies to increase the human life span enter human trials within the next decade.' Other topics addressed include gene therapy to 'stack the decks in favor of having a healthy child'; the controversial possibility of its use to select desirable features; reproductive cloning; restoring motion to the paralyzed; and a brain-computer interface.

It sounds like some of the early speculative fiction that I've read getting close to reality - exciting stuff, but I'm glad to see a consideration of the risks and overall societal implications of neurotechnology as well as the promise. For example, with increased lifespans, Naam discusses the possibility of 'Social, political, and academic stagnation and intergenerational conflict'. Read More Than Human for a genetic education, as well as a survey of current biotechnology research, and a philosophical examination of its implications for individuals and society.

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