Viewpoint: Wishful worries? Fears about the transhumanist, human-enhancement movement are overblown

Credit: Brian Stauffer
Credit: Brian Stauffer
[A] problem arises when pundits concerned about possible social and ethical downsides of a technology exaggerate its technical feasibility. This happens in discussions of psychopharmacology, genetic engineering, brain implants, artificial intelligence and other technologies that might, in principle (that wonderful, all-purpose fudge factor), boost our cognitive and physiological abilities. Warnings about what we should do often exaggerate what we can do.

Technology historian David Brock introduces “wishful worries,” which he defines as “problems that it would be nice to have,” in a 2019 essay for the Los Angeles Book Review.

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When these enthusiasts downplay practical as well as ethical objections, we take their hype with a grain a salt.

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But critics of techno-enhancement, who superficially might seem more credible, indulge in hype too, to alarm us. Perhaps some “critics” are sneakily trying to promote techno-enhancement with reverse psychology. Wouldn’t it be awful to quadruple your IQ, they ask us, or to be happy all the time, or to live hundreds of years? Crazy-like-a-fox Elon Musk, I suspect, rants about the threat of super-intelligent machines in order to market his own investments in artificial intelligence. Sincere or not, wishful worrying leaves the public with a grossly distorted picture of science’s potential.

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