- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press; Reprint edition (September 6, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807066621
- ISBN-13: 978-0807066621
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future Reprint Edition
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“In the future, accelerating technology and unexpected, revolutionary events—most of which will never be predicted by futurists—may produce a society as alien as some of our tools. Bess delivers an insightful philosophical analysis of how we must adjust.”
“Rejuvenation therapies that could potentially extend human lifespans to 160 years or more, chemical or bioelectronic cognitive enhancement that could double or triple IQ scores, bioelectronic devices for modulating brain processes including ‘pleasure centers,’ so-called ‘designer babies,’ and much more are poised to cross the threshold from science fiction to reality in the near future. Michael Bess offers a sober prediction of how such advances will directly affect human society, and the ethical dilemmas that could result. Our Grandchildren Redesigned is fascinating from cover to cover and near-impossible to put down. Highly recommended!”
—The Midwest Book Review
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Michael Bess is the Chancellor’s Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He has received major fellowships from the J. S. Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Fulbright program. His previous books include Choices Under Fire and The Light-Green Society.
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Any review of this book would have to start out by mentioning the fact that the author, Michael Bess, is a Professor of history specializing in the social and cultural impacts of technology. This is the direction the book comes from. The author looks at this subject from this particular angle. Those interested in a detailed analysis and discussion of the specific technologies, in particular electrical or mechanical, that will enable the modifications of humans over the next 40 or so years should instead see the relevant chapters of Ray Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near”. The few chapters of that book do an excellent chapter at discussing the technologies in detail and from the perspective of Dr Kurzweil (i.e., from the view of an electrical engineer).
Dr. Bess starts off his book with a handful of chapters providing a high level view of the various technologies that may enable humanity to modify itself. He provides a discussion of pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, genetics and other technologies that he believes will make this possible. As stated previously however, this discussion is very high level. It is not for the knowledgeable or for those who seek a more detailed examination of these technologies or, for that matter, anyone with anything more than an introductory level of (or no) knowledge regarding these technologies.
Then Dr. Bess goes into various social issues such as impact on inequality, discrimination, competitiveness between humans, etc. In regard to this he proves, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, more successful than in his discussion of the technologies. Given he is a history professor specializing in the impact of these technologies this is no surprise.
Dr. Bess then goes into how this will impact humanity’s identity, a particularly important question considering that these technologies can (and probably will) change the meaning of being human. This is not only in terms of extending the lifespan of humans, which will have a minimal impact on humanity’s identity, but in terms of many of the impacts of specific technologies. For example, modifications to the brain that will permit humans to process large amounts of information in a parallel method (like today’s “thinking” supercomputers such as Watson) will blur the line of time in the thought process. We will be able to think not in one string of thought at any one time but in many. We may end up having more “artificial” components within us than “natural”. Humans may be able to communicate via thought and networks instead of through voice (and hence be able to communicate with large numbers of other persons or machines simultaneously). All this implies humanity looking more android than human. More specifically, more like the “Borg” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
Dr. Bess, like many others including technologists, is careful to point out that not only will there be positives with human modification (i.e., extended lifespan, mitigation or elimination of many diseases, ability for greater accomplishments due to greater abilities, etc.) but there will also be dangers. Dangers include not only the impact on social structures (i.e., creation of underclass among those unable to afford cutting edge technologies, etc.) and on humanity’s identity but simply dangers stemming from the direct technological uncertainty on implementing this technology in terms of, say, physiology. For example, pharmaceuticals that enable one to keep all facts in one’s memory, as opposed to forgetting, may lead some unforeseen effects on the brain. Too much information input may lead to a society where anxiety and neurosis may run amuck. And so on. He warns that humanity will have to move slowly so as to be able to spot such problems before it is too late. International cooperation is something else he also emphasizes to this end. Considering the zero sum game such technologies will have on people and societies (i.e., the individual or society who chooses to wait will fall behind in ability to find work, the world pecking order, etc.) though many of his recommendations, in this regard, seem little more than wishful thinking.
Dr. Hess concludes by emphasizing that people will have to be selective in the implants and modifications they should adopt. They will have to think first and really, really know themselves. Knowing oneself is not a recommendation that is recent though. Socrates gave that advice 25 centuries ago. “Know thyself” is one of his most famous maxims. Yet, despite this, this has still been a problem since. Few people seem to have been able to answer this question and to act upon it in a meaningful way. Why would anyone expect this to change in the future? Hence how will humans of the future be able to make the correct choices as to how to modify themselves?
In short, this book is geared to the novice who has little knowledge of the technologies discussed and has read or thought little about their social impacts and their impacts on human identity. For that audience this book is worthy of a 4 star or so. For those with more extensive knowledge of the technologies and who has read and thought more on social impacts and issues of human identity the book has nothing novel or profound to say. For that audience 3 stars or so.
A last comment is in regard to the performance of the audiobook. It is not bad but nothing to shout about either though. Pretty much a three-star performance.
While the challenges he identifies are daunting, and the solutions he proposes are often complex, in the end he leaves us with an optimistic message that the human race can influence its future evolution by making careful choices about what enhances and detracts from important human values. I can only hope that leaders in these fields read this book and consider its important message.
-Kevin Joseph, author of The Champion Maker