1.22.2008

Cognitive Enhancement, The Book

As a few readers of this blog know, since last summer I've been working on a large writing project. The tentative plan is for a book, and the release date is unknown. I'm about 60,000 words in, most of the argumentative structure and key points are there, and there's lots and lots of work on the prose left to do. I've dedicated this next week to being a mental health week. It's my first real break since summer... hopefully I can actually keep myself to it and decompress a little. Trying to write a book is a lot more brain-space intensive than I thought it'd be.

I was trying to explain exactly what I'm writing about to some friends, and having some difficulty... and I have an executive summary due in a couple weeks. So I'll take this opportunity to try to explain a little bit about just what this big project that's been soaking up most of my time is about.

The topic is cognitive enhancement. As in, drugs, gene therapy, treatments, or other sorts of technology that will make a person smarter in noticeable, meaningful, and multidimensional ways. I've outlined seven different potential technological routes to "first-generation" cognitive enhancement, and I think/hope/plan that this book will end up being a pretty good overview of what the field of cognitive enhancement will look like in the coming years. I've hopes to get into the genetics, pharmacology, supporting research advancements, major hurdles, likely dead-end approaches, and neuroscience/psychology surrounding this field, as well to cover things like what IQ does (and doesn't) mean, social influences on intelligence, the concept of 'neuroengineering', somatic vs germline enhancements, and what caveats and limitations will likely go along with these potential enhancements. What sorts of complexity can be sidestepped, and what sorts of complexity will need to be tackled head-on. I'd say about 60% of it will deal with the science and systems theory involved (but I'll try to make it interesting, promise!).

(At least, that's an overview of the science stuff I hope to figure out and fit in. Actual results may vary considerably.)

The other 40% will cover the policy and ethics issues which go with the idea of 'enhancement'-- thoughts about how these technologies may stress the fabric of society, and some important things for scientists and policymakers to keep in mind. I'm neither "pro" nor "con" enhancement: I just think it'll happen. In fact, to sum up the message of the book, I'd say this:

Significant cognitive enhancement is going to happen sooner than most people, even most experts, think. These seven distinct approaches are viable, and if even one of them works, it'll transform society in many ways. We should start thinking about the implications and ideal forms of these technologies now, so we have choices about how they enter the world.

So that's my current project. I'm really excited about it. There are a lot of "ifs" in making it happen. Honestly, I think if I write half the book I want to write I'll be happy.

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