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Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age Paperback – February 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1989, McKibben published The End of Nature, a gorgeously written and galvanizing book about the true cost of global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer and other man-made ills-the loss of wild nature and with it the priceless aspect of our humanity that evolved to listen to and heed it. Now McKibben applies the same passion, scholarship and free-ranging thought to a subject that even committed environmentalists have avoided. Here he tackles what it means to be human. Reporting from the frontiers of genetic research, nanotechnology and robotics, he explores that subtle moral and spiritual boundary that he calls the "enough point." Presenting an overview of what is or may soon be possible, McKibben contends that there is no boundary to human ambition or desire or to what our very inventions may make possible. In an absorbing and horrifying montage of images, he depicts microscopic nanobots consuming the world and children born so genetically enhanced that they will never be able to believe that they reach for the stars as pianists or painters or long-distance runners because there is something unique in them that has a passion to try. Indeed, in the view of the most unbridled "technoutopians," the day of the robotically striving human is already here. What does set a human being apart from other beings, McKibben argues, is our capacity for restraint-and even for finding great meaning in restraint. "We need to do an unlikely thing: We need to survey the world we now inhabit and proclaim it good. Good enough." McKibben presents an uncompromising view, and an essential view. Readers will come away from his latest brilliantly provocative work shaking their heads at the possible future he portrays, yet understanding that becoming a pain-free, all-but-immortal, genetically enhanced semi-robot may be deeply unsatisfactory compared to being an ordinary man or woman who has faced his or her fear of death to relish what is. This is a brilliant book that deserves a wide readership.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
McKibben (The End of Nature, 1989) turns a passionate and revealing spotlight on our headlong rush into technology. He explains an array of procedures--including germline engineering and therapeutic cloning--that represent a slippery slope. For although they hold the promise to cure disease, they also offer the option of "improving" or "perfecting" human beings, providing the ability to choose a child's sex, boost intelligence, or implant a predisposition to music. If we're not careful, we could end up engineering our children to the point that they're no longer human, he cautions. Technological advancements are proceeding so rapidly that we will soon need to make decisions about how much technology is enough. McKibben makes genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechology understandable even to those readers who are not techno-savvy, and he makes a strong and compelling case for examining the medical, social, ethical, and philosophical arguments against certain technological advancements that come eerily close to leaving behind humanness and, thus, all the intangible irrationalities that make us who we are. This is a disturbing though ultimately optimistic book that explores the possibility of technology replacing humanity and rouses within us the impulse to declare: enough. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Another original aspect of the book is its criticism of the whole gamut of technologies advocated by the technotopians, namely robotics, genetics and nanotechnology. Fukuyama regards robotics and nanotech as unworthy even of criticism, feeling that they will not become advanced enough to threaten human existence in the foreseeable future. Such skepticism of feasibility is echoed by writers like Bill Gates, though interestingly Gates did express concern about events in the far future. McKibben, however, takes seriously the recent claims about the power of Moore's law by writers like Kurzweil and Vinge. Given our experience with the explosion in computing power over the past fifty years, it seems absurd to simply dismiss claims that it could continue for the next fifty. While we may reach impassable roadblocks before then, predicting the future is extremely difficult. Processing power trends are not at all like, say, the increase in the number of razor blades on a razor, an example The Economist used to mock the concept of extrapolating future growth. We should take the possibility of radical change seriously.
The book is not perfect. McKibben repeats many predictions from Kurzweil and Moravec in outlining robotics and nanotech and if you have already read these authors it may get repetitive. Personally I still found it worth reading because of the references and connections that McKibben makes to literature in portraying the possible problems. The outcomes are so grandiose and incredible that every bit of allusion seems helpful in wrapping your mind around them. It is sometimes also difficult to tell the quality of the arguments that McKibben criticizes. There are different strains of "transhumanist" thinking, ranging from well-respected, universally cited work to wild interviews in hack publications. There were several points when I had to look up and ask myself whether a so-called danger was anything more than a strawman to begin with. But the realm of credibility is blurry here and it's the larger picture that matters most anyway. If I were to use this book as a point of departure for a future work, the real task would be more deeply elaborating on the "meaning" that McKibben says would be destroyed. This book is still a great start.
Lengthier review at: [...]
The bigger questions once one has read this:
1) Should we create what we have the capacity to create in the name of scientific innovation and progress just because there are those who want to be the first to manifest the concepts?
2) Should greed be allowed to govern decisions which, although discoveries can have beneficial applications.. they could also create a reality which alters the human race and controls us and not vise versa?
I disagree with its premise.
We humans already have built into our systems, the trait of curiosity as well as the strong desire to survive as a species.
We're going to move forward with genetic research, stem cell
research and cloning organs in the 21st Century. We're also
excited with the prospect of space travel and intelligent life
elsewhere in the universe.
The author thinks that we must stop developing our human-ness, at
this time because we need to stick with what's "natural."
Is it natural to have the ability to cure all diseases by manipulating genes and stem cells, but NOT do it?...for fear of
not being "natural?" Is it natural NOT to live 200 years, if we
have it within our power to do so? As long as we solve the
problems of overpopulation, what's wrong with living 200 years?
At this time, we're replacing damaged human parts with new high
tech man-made materials? Is it unnatural to have a prosthetic
arm, leg, hand, etc.? In some cases, we're also using animal
cells to cure human brain diseases. Some people have used
transplanted animal hearts. Is this unnatural...to want to live,
no matter what? Would it be better to die then to have an
animal or prosthetic part?
Cloning human organs simply refines the above procedures, and
In the 21st Century we already know that machines are putting many out of work. We know that computers can "think" faster than most humans, and yet we want them to make our lives more
convenient. Our desire to choose our own destiny could come to
an end if we were NOT to enhance our brain power vis a vie these
existing machines. What is wrong with that?
Is it unnatural to want to have higher intelligence than the machines in our lives?
Through the development of machines, computer chips, satellites,
space ships, and the e*world in general, we have changed our
environment. The "medium is the message" should be pretty clear
here. Now, we need to adapt to the very environment that we
have wrought. The reason that homo sapiens have come this far, is the ability of our brains to adapt to an assortment of environments. Of course, we need to develop our intelligence so
that we are the masters of the machines and...beyond. Wouldn't
it be grossly unnatural NOT to be smarter than the machines we
There's no doubt that most humans who think about space travel,
are smart enough, in the present time, to know that we humans
will NOT be able to do this, in our present form. If we ever reach the point of being able to chart a destination...it wouldn't be possible to arrive at that goal, in our present state. No doubt, to send a space ship out into the universe to
some distant planet or moon with humans on board to inhabit that
celestial place, our Planet Earth ancestors will have to create
a nearly new species... a more sophisticated primate. Perhaps,
humanoids with highly enhanced brains and no legs will navigate
a cargo of suspended fertilized eggs, as well as humans long in
hibernation. But how is this not natural? Isn't it very natural to want to explore our universe? Isn't it extremely
natural to want to survive a collision with a meteor or comet, if
it's "humanly" possible?
It would seem that NOT to do all of the above, would hold back
our VERY NATURAL human drives of survival and exploration.
I applaud the author for pointing out some pitfalls that technology might lead us into. Taking these into consideration,
we humans, have no choice but to move forward into gradually
expanding brave new worlds, which is what we have always done, in
order to make our species stronger and able to survive.
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