Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Patrick Lin on the military's push for human enhancement

[Continuing coverage of the 2010 H+ Summit at Harvard.]

After James Hughes came Patrick Lin (bio). Lin noted correctly that something that's gone basically unremarked at this conference so far is how much of the push towards futuristic technologies and human enhancement is driven by the military. The military has strong reasons to try to engineer soldiers with superhuman strength, who can climb walls, who don't need to eat and sleep, and so forth.

Instead of "Be All You Can Be," he says, the Army's recruiting slogan might become "Be More Than You Can Be." Nice line. Though I wonder what this would do to the Army's two more recent slogans, "Army of One" and "Army Strong."

Lin notes that the primacy of military interests in human enhancement raises all sorts of ethical issues. For instance, he wonders whether society might become more warlike and wars become more frequent. Lin doesn't have time to go into a lot more detail about these questions given the cramped ten-minute time slot, but it's good to hear them raised. Needless to say, military technology — today's and tomorrow's — is a subject often broached in the pages of The New Atlantis, including P.W. Singer's recent essay "Military Robots and the Laws of War." And the future of military technology was also the focus of a big conference in D.C. three weeks ago.

Whatever the ethical implications, the current fronts of military innovation seem to give us glimpse into our technological future. It may be true, as Robert Wright argued at the conference just mentioned (skip to about 41:50 in this video) that DARPA, the military's advanced-research group, really only creates things that would have come along soon anyway. But by and large, war (understood to include preparation and deterrence) is, as it always has been, a tremendous catalyst of technological innovation.


  1. Nice write up. To be fair, I didn't invent that Army tagline of "Be More Than You Can Be." I think I first heard that from Max Mehlman, law professor and bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.

  2. This aspect of human enhancement depresses me.


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