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More Than Human:  Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement
 
 

More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement [Kindle Edition]

Ramez Naam
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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WINNER OF THE 2005 H.G. WELLS AWARD


"The Editors Recommend" - Scientific American 

What if you could be smarter, stronger, and have a better memory just by taking a pill? 
What if we could alter our genes to cure Alzheimer's and Parkinson's?
What if we could halt or even reverse the human aging process?
What if we could communicate with each other simply by thinking about it?

These questions were once the stuff of science fiction. Today, advances in biotechnology have shown that they're plausible, even likely to be accomplished in the near future. In labs around the world, researchers looking for ways to help the sick and injured have stumbled onto techniques that enhance healthy animals--making them stronger, faster, smarter, and longer-lived--in some cases, even connecting their minds to robots and computers across the Internet. 

Now science is on the verge of applying this knowledge to healthy men and women, allowing us to alter humanity in ways we'd previously only dreamed possible. The same research that could cure Alzheimer's is leading to drugs and genetic techniques that could boost human intelligence. The techniques being developed to stave off heart disease and cancer have the potential to slow or even reverse human aging. And brain implants that restore motion to the paralyzed and sight to the blind are already allowing a small set of patients to control robots and computers simply by thinking about it.

Not everyone welcomes this scientific progress. Cries of "against nature" arise from skeptics even as scientists break new ground at an astounding pace. Across the political spectrum, the debate roils: Should we embrace the power to alter our minds and bodies, or should we restrict it? 

Distilling the most radical accomplishments being made in labs worldwide, including gene therapy, genetic engineering, stem cell research, life extension, brain-computer interfaces, and cloning, More Than Human offers an exciting tour of the impact biotechnology will have on our lives. Throughout this remarkable trip, author Ramez Naam shares an impassioned vision for the future with revealing insight into the ethical dilemmas posed by twenty-first-century science.

"A terrific survey of current work and future possibilities in gene therapy, neurotechnology and other fields." - Los Angeles Times

"Ramez Naam provides a reliable and informed cook's tour of the world we might choose if we decide that we should fast-forward evolution. I disagree with virtually all his enthusiasms, but I think he has made his case cogently and well." 
    - Bill McKibben, author Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age 

"More Than Human is one of those rare books that is both a delightful read and an important statement. No one interested in the future intersections of science, technology, and medicine can afford to miss this book."
    - Steven Johnson, author of Mind Wide Open and Where Good Ideas Come From

"More Than Human is excellent - passionate yet balanced, clearly written and rich with fascinating details. A wonderful overview of a topic that will dominate the twenty-first century." 
    - Greg Bear, author of Dead Lines and Darwin's Children

"The future accelerates and change is upon us.  The only question - asked cogently in More Than Human - is whether we can learn to ride the waves, or else be swept away. This book is a how-to guide for future-wave riders."
    - David Brin, author of EXISTENCE and The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? 

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1106 KB
  • Print Length: 232 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009IHU59C
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0072CKJJQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #280,660 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ramez Naam did a great job at explaining clearly and in an enjoyable manner what to expect of the future in the years to come, and what is already possible now.

The book is already 9 years old, but remains useful today. Experimental drugs mentioned in the book like EUK-8 and EUK-134 are still in the clinical trial phase. It's also interesting to see how some predictions happened so much faster than expected. On p.122, the author says that it will be possible to sequence a whole human genome for $1000 in 2035. This has actually happening this year, in 2014 - 21 years earlier that people thought in 2005. This shows how some technologies progress exponentially rather than linearly, and that the world will change very quickly in the years to come.

I only have two criticism. The first is that there were a bit too many typing mistakes (a dozen), a sign that the editor was not very good. The second is that Ramez Naam spends a bit too much time at the beginning trying to convince his readers that we shouldn't be afraid to embrace new advances in science such as gene therapy. Since I am not a Christian fundamentalist that doesn't concern me, and it probably won't concern most people who buy a book on biological enhancement.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short and sweet 16 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Good book, informative if slightly repetitive.
But I was expecting a longer read to be honest. Also seems a bit out of date...?
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare voice: rigorous and accessible 9 Mar 2005
By Leo Dirac - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Naam describes recent scientific advances with the rigor of an academic researcher, but in terms that you don't need a PhD to understand. He also does an insightful job of relating recent breakthroughs to historic scientific firsts. For example, he makes a credible case that someday choosing the genes of your children will be just as common and non-creepy as in-vitro fertilization is today. He covers a wide range of topics, describing science that could lead to 150 year lifespans or being able to google things just by thinking about them. I was hoping for a bit more about nanotechnology, but maybe it's still a bit early for that. ;)

He explains how these technologies can be helpful to society if embraced. The more compelling argument is how frightening they could be if restricted. He draws astute connections to the rise of already common technologies like reading or antibiotics. Even if you don't agree with everything he believes, his position is well argued, and insightful.

Most importantly, from a crowd screaming in panic about a changing world, Naam's perspective stands out as calm, optimistic, logical and caring.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave new world or genetically-enhanced pipe dream? 25 Aug 2005
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The basic thesis of Ramez Naam's book is that with our ability to shape (especially to enhance) our biological nature through the tools of our culture--in particular, genetic engineering--we will transform humanity into "a plethora of forms," which will eventually result in thousands if not millions of new species. Naam contends that we will spawn "a new explosion of life as sudden and momentous as that of the Cambrian explosion" some 570 million years ago. (p. 233)

That's the upside. What is also possible (although Naam does not dwell on this) is that with biological enhancement tools that are presently coming into discovery and use, we may transform ourselves into beings who will have satisfied their every desire, and with that satiation, have put an end to desire. The result may very well be the end of human evolution, biological or cultural. And following that, the end of the species that began as a big-brained walking ape six million years ago.

Or none of the above.

This is the exciting part. We have no idea where cultural evolution is going to take us. We have no idea whether we will develop the ability to stave off natural disasters (rogue comets; nearby supernovae; unstoppable pathogens) or overcome our propensity to self-destruction in the form of perpetual war or the poisoning of our environment. Yet, modern Luddites and social conservatives notwithstanding, we will indeed use the tools we develop to initially prevent and cure ailments and deficiencies, and ultimately to enhance our abilities to enjoy and to get the most out of life.

This is what this book is all about. Naam begins with the fuzzy distinction between using genetic engineering to heal or to enhance, and makes two telling points: (1) it is often impossible to distinguish between a procedure done as part of the healing arts, or one done to enhance our abilities; and (2) whether we like it or not, given human nature (as it now exists!) if the enhancement tools are there, promising greater intelligence or greater beauty or longer life, then we humans will inevitably use such tools. If the Bush administration or some other Luddite-mentality government tries to suppress these tools, people will just go elsewhere. And those societies that fall behind will fall very far behind. The genetically enhanced will inherit the earth, and indeed it isn't much of a stretch to imagine a future in which those who have enhanced themselves are so far in advance of those who have not as to constitute superior beings. Will the Luddites become pets?

More immediately--keeping these ideas in mind--will it only be the rich who will benefit? Naam argues--and I think convincingly--that yes, at first only the rich will use the tools to better themselves and their children, but then lagging only ten or twenty years behind will come the total mass of humanity. Naam compares this process to that in the present day pharmaceutical environment in which initially the new drugs are very expensive, but after they go generic they become affordable to the masses.

There is so much in the book that I will not be able to get to even a fraction of it. So let me say that Naam has anticipated a lot of the criticism that will be leveled at his position and he has done a good job of answering it. The idea that we can somehow stop genetic engineering to save our human nature is shown as bogus since human nature is an ever evolving, ever changing abstraction. Even the concrete species itself (which is us) has changed mightily over the eons from Australopithecus to homo sapiens. And whether we lift a finger or not, we will eventually change again or go extinct. That is the main point. We cannot stop change. We cannot hope to preserve the present human "endowment." We can only hope to engage change, and with our intelligence make life better for ourselves and those to come, people who will be different from us, and going far enough into the future, very different from us.

For the here and now, Naam sees biotech and neurotech enhancements as "investments in valuable human capital." (p. 76) I believe this is the primary reason the United States must overcome the backward mentality of the Bush administration and support not only more stem cell research, but encourage a greater investment in all forms of biological engineering. If we don't we will fall behind those who do.

For others who see the ghost of eugenics in his position, Naam has an effective answer. He writes, "the only people advocating state control over the genetic makeup of the population are those who would like to see genetic enhancement techniques prohibited. The advocates of human enhancement, on the other hand, are arguing for individual and family choice, the opposite of state control." In other words, "...the prohibitionists are the ones upholding the eugenic side of this debate." (p. 166)

Naam gets very specific about the enhancements possible or at least conceivable, including brain-computer interfaces, brain implants, human cloning, electrical stimulation of the brain, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (which takes in vitro fertilization one step further), etc. Near the end of the book, he sees us communicating not only ideas and words, but thoughts, feelings and emotions to others directly from our brains as one would communicate through a wireless network. Eventually we will have "the flexibility to do what we like with the contents of our thoughts, feelings, and imaginations..."

Since all of this may sound scary (yet exhilarating), Naam adds, "and society will respond with new social norms to guide our choices." (p. 219)

Oh, brave new world that has such things in it!

The book is fascinating. Naam has not only done his homework, he has thought out the consequences of what he has found and provided the reader with some guidance.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and wonder inducing, M.T.H. is a must read! 12 Mar 2005
By D. Morningstar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In More Than Human, Naam's writing is a compelling look at our probable future. Through genetic techniques, drugs, computer and robotic technology, we will have many avenues to enhance our minds and bodies.

Naam presents a wonderful and engaging survey of current, cutting-edge scientific research across various fields including medicine, genetics, biology, robotics, and computers. The central theme, of course, is that all of these endeavors involve improving the human body and/or mind.

Unfortunately, many oppose the idea of enhancing our minds and bettering our bodies. They argue that such desires are "unnatural" and go against what it means to be human. They further believe that decisions on the future technologies of bio-enhancement should be made by a select few. Naam convincingly argues that the desire to improve and enhance ourselves is in fact a central trait that defines our humanity. Indeed, nothing could be more "natural" than the interest in improving ones abilities, including the ability to have better, longer, and healthier lives. Naam also demonstrates how the governance of these issues by an elite cadre of political appointees is ultimately more harmful than allowing the billions of inviduals who will make use of these bio-enhancements to choose for themselves.

In sum, Naam writes clearly and with infectious excitement about topics that could easily be confused as science fiction. The great wonder however, as Naam is able to show us, is that these topics are very much science fact. We can not avoid what bio-enhancement will do to us as individuals and to our society. We should allow our enthusiasm and optimism to fully accept the inevitable changes that are coming, so that with full understanding we can properly integrate them into our lives.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent though too optimistic account of humanity's future 8 Mar 2005
By Mason Bryant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Naam touches on many of the most crucial milestones in the most optimistic visions of humanity's future: genetic medicine, drug therapies, human cloning, and cybernetic enhancement to name a few. He does so in a way that is scientifically rigorous without becoming mired in the details in a way that would make the account difficult to read for those without a scientific background.

Some readers may be put off by the directness with which he approaches issues which are very controversial, but these technologies are already in use and Naam makes a persuasive argument that, like it or not, the rest of them will be in regular use sooner or later.

While I am personally skeptical of the rose colored glasses through which Naam looks at the future, this book is an undeniably excellent introduction to our technological future and is an enjoyable read at that.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Realistic and optimistic 9 April 2005
By Dr. Lee D. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the last few years there have been a number of books that have served as excellent apologies for the ongoing and very rapid technological developments. The authors of these books have their own beliefs as to the actual rate of technological progress, but they are uniform in their unrelenting optimism about this progress. This is indeed refreshing, considering that most authors that discuss scientific and technological development seem to have one singular goal: to instill anxiety and foreboding in their readers. The author of this book will have none of that, and has written a book that projects a future that is both believable and scientifically realistic. In addition, the author does not hesitate to speculate, but is always careful to note when his speculations begin and end. He also points out the risks that are involved in human modification, and exhibits caution when it is appropriate.

One particular topic that the author addresses early on is gene therapy, and considering the hit that gene therapy has taken in the press recently, this is an appropriate choice of topics. It would be unwise to dismiss the viability of gene therapy so early in the game, and the biotech industry needs to be more aggressive in its development. The author discusses some of the applications of gene therapy, including that of the isolation of the growth hormone erythropoietin (EPO) in order to treat anemia. EPO gene therapy could be used by athletes to boost performance, but the author cautions that EPO is probably responsible for the deaths of several athletes in the early 1990's. He also describes alternative strategies using gene promoters, that will allow the control of the EPO levels, and also "hybrid" approaches that involve both the taking of pills and gene therapy. Also discussed are gene therapies for cosmetic enhancement, for curing baldness, and for curing Alzheimer's disease. Gene therapy for the latter involves the modification of neurons in order that they have extra copies of the gene responsible for production of NGF (nerve growth factor).

Some laboratory evidence involving laboratory mice indicates that NGF gene therapy could improve their learning and memory. The author points out one experiment where extra levels of NGF enabled mice to navigate a maze about 60 percent faster than normal mice. He also discusses research where mice were genetically engineered to have extra copies of the NR2B gene, which produces proteins that are needed for the NMDA receptors in the hippocampus. These mice learned things more quickly at any age than normal mice. The downside of this genetic engineering is that the mice also "unlearned" more quickly, and seemed to be more susceptible to pain than ordinary mice.

Another unique feature of this book that sets it apart from other apologies for enhancement technologies is the inclusion of statistical evidence for many of its assertions. The reader will find bar graphs, references to pertinent statistical studies in the literature, and other graphs as appropriate. Particularly interesting is the graph on worldwide life expectancy, since it indicates that life expectancy at later age has not risen much in the last one hundred years. The author then proceeds to give a fascinating account of the research that has been done in life extension in the last few years. Some of this research involved the changing of a single gene, which for the case of the nematode worm resulted in the tripling of its life span. Even though his discussion is fairly short, the author gives enough to motivate the reader to search for more in-depth discussion of the research in this very exciting area. The possibility of increasing human life spans by decades or more will of course raise the interest of the majority of people. The author believes that therapies that can increase human life span will enter into human trials within the next decade. This is a very optimistic projection considering the current perceptions of the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.

Readers who are impatient to get on with the genetic engineering of humans will have to wait a little longer. As the author reminds us, the germline genetic engineering of a human embryo has not been attempted as of yet. The gene therapy for Ashanti DeSilva was `somatic' gene therapy, and could not be passed on to her children. The author though mentions a procedure that would blur the distinction between germline genetic engineering and somatic gene therapy. It involves in utero gene therapy, and is done while the fetus is still in the mother's womb. Such a technique was never carried out, due to regulatory restrictions, but the author gives several reasons why it could be viable. Genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart problems could be eliminated he says by this technique. The author points out, interestingly, that 59 percent of the American population approves of the use of genetic engineering to eliminate disease from the unborn. It is actually surprising, at least to this reviewer, that this figure is so high, given the anxiety about genetic engineering in general, even in areas as "trivial" ethically as genetically modified crops. In addition, and this is most refreshing to read, the number of Americans who approve of genetic engineering to create desired traits in children went from 10 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 2002, according to a study quoted in the book. This is a promising trend, and gives one hope that the population as a whole will eventually appreciate the ethical soundness of using genetic engineering.

The author also addresses the controversy on human reproductive cloning, noting correctly that it is not safe to perform today, but supporting its use when safety concerns have been overcome. Reproductive cloning will hopefully become routine in this century, and human clones will enjoy the rights that all humans have. Banning reproductive cloning is not necessary, the author argues. Clones will be ordinary people, like the rest of us.
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