No one would deny that these technologies, should they fulfill their promise, are anything but miraculous for Paul Thacker and others who need them.
Yet none of this technology is going to remain exclusively in the realm of pure therapeutics. Even now some are breaking through the barrier between
remedies for the sick and enhancements for the healthy.
Take the drug Adderall. A highly addictive pharmaceutical prescribed for patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the drug works as a
stimulant in people without ADHD -- and is now used by at least one out of five college students to bump up their energy and attention when they want to
perform well on tests or pull all-nighters.
Saying that college students are popping pills is like Claude Rains in Casablanca saying to Humphrey Bogart: "I'm shocked, shocked to find
that gambling is going on in here." Yet the widespread use -- and acceptance -- of Adderall and other stimulants by students to enhance their academic
performance is bumping up against something new. It's pushing us into a realm where taking powerful pharmaceuticals that boost, say, attention or
memory is becoming acceptable beyond pure recreation.
Can we be too far from a greater acceptance of surgically implanted devices that increase our ability to hear or see? Or new legs that allow us to run
like cheetahs and scramble up walls like geckos?
Or that allow us to run in the Olympics like Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who may qualify for the games in London this year despite
missing his lower legs? He runs using two sleek, metallic "legs" that combine with his natural speed and skill to do far more than overcome a
Which leads us to the crucial question for the approaching age of human enhancement: How far would you go to modify yourself using the latest medtech?
Would you replace perfectly good legs with artificial ones if they made you faster and stronger?
Would you take a daily pill that not only stimulated your brain to help you do your best on a test, but also bumped up your memory?
Would you sign up for a genetic alteration that would make you taller and stronger?
Let's up the ante and declare that these fixes had no deleterious side effects, and were deemed safe by a newly appointed U.S. Agency for Human
Augmentation. Would this change your mind? (As an aside, I'm trying to imagine what the candidates now vying for the Republican nomination for president would say about an Agency for Human
And what if everyone else at work -- or all of the rest of the kids in your child's class at school -- were taking advantage of these enhancements?
Currently, none of these hypothetical modifications would be ethical, and most are illegal. Yet one doesn't need to spend too much time delving into
the world of near-future medtech to understand that each of these possibilities are likely to occur in one form or another in the lifetime of those
college kids now swallowing Adderall.