Emerging technologies will give us greater power over the physical world and promise to redefine the relationship between man and nature. Not only will emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, virtual reality, and genetics, give us greater control over the external world, they will give us greater control over ourselves. And this raises a number of important questions in the emerging fields of virtual-genetics and nano-genetics (i.e. nano-pharmacology, nano-cognitive-augmentation, and nano-cognitive-editing; or just nano-genetics, for short): “What does it mean to be human?” “Who do we want to be?” “And what are we willing to do to get there?”

The idea of “human enhancement” is an idea that many of us are not entirely comfortable with. Perhaps, it is that we are afraid of loosing our human identity, or a loss personal control over our lives. And these themes are seen repeatedly in science fiction and political philosophy.

In the science fiction classic, a Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley addresses this theme. He presents a futuristic world in which everyone is quite happy, and in which genetics, pharmacology, hypermedia, and socialization techniques are used to create a world without conflict and war, poverty and need. But, it is also a world without choice, without creativity, without inspiration, without brotherhood, and without love. And, although we would no doubt be happy to live in such a society (being conditioned to do so), we would never consent to doing so. We would not sacrifice our dignity, nor the rich diversity of human experience, for world peace and universal happiness.

A second theme found repeatedly in science fiction and philosophy is that, “Human enhancement is somehow unnatural,” and that, “We are playing with things that we should not be playing with, or do not have a right to be playing with.” (The most famous example of this basic theme is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, published in 1818.) What are we really trying to say? Perhaps, we mean that it is not an acceptable means to a particular end. Or perhaps, it is the outcome that we object to. Or perhaps, it is a fear of human stupidity.

Yet, if we were to say that we were not interested in enhancing the human condition, we would not be being altogether honest. We do not believe that all natural states are desirable – dying of cancer, getting eaten by a lion, or being fat; never mind the human propensity for violence and bloodlust. Since the dawn of man, humans have hoped for a better world. And since the dawn of man, humans have worked to improve the human condition. Tool making. Art. Agriculture. Engineering. Culture. Achievement. Medicine.

We want to be smarter, stronger, and better looking. People get up in the morning and drink a cup of coffee to stay awake. We go to school – and modify the structure of the human brain – so we can be smarter. “You are what you eat.” Many of us wear glasses to improve our vision. And most women put on makeup every morning. These are all examples of human enhancements, in one way or another. Human enhancement is part of our everyday lives, and we devote a great deal of our time to it. Human enhancement, it seems, is part of what it is to be human.

We believe that some types of human enhancement are ok (wearing eye glasses or having a drink at a bar, to make us more sociable), whereas, others are not (doing steroids). In addition, there some things we are not quite sure about (breast implants, riddlin, and illegal substances). And, some things that are ok, but only under certain conditions. But, “How do we decide which types of human enhancement are acceptable?”

We decide in the social arena. Alcohol is an instructive example. We believe that drinking alcohol is ok, but only to a point. You can be arrested for public drunkenness. Never mind drunk driving. “How much is ‘too much?’” It seems that we do agree that there is a such thing as “too much,” although we may quibble about what this means. And this is something that we negotiate in the social arena. New forms of human enhancement, such as nano-pharmacology, will be negotiated in a similar manner, in the social arena. And if you have a particular opinion on the matter, don’t despair, just join the debate.

Different social groups, however, are likely to come to different conclusions about what is ok and what is not ok. That is, there is likely to be a great deal of cultural variation in how various human enhancements are viewed. If we look at alcohol, penicillin, Prozac, and birth control, arguably, the four most important drugs in the world today, we see that: Catholics believe that using birth control is a sin. Muslims believe drinking alcohol is a sin. Prozac is looked at with suspicion in many communities. But two things should be clear, there are things that are not socially permissible (and usually with some justification); and human enhancement, in and of itself, is not wrong (any more than getting a haircut).

We see that human enhancement is not a moral question of its own; human enhancement is simply an extension of traditional ethics. Simply put, we believe that helping people is good, and that hurting people is bad. One may ask, is it wrong to give immunizations to your children? After all, immunizations alter or enhance the human immune system. Of course not. It is “wrong” and morally reprehensible to not do so! In this way, the ethics of human enhancement is merely the ethics of “right” and “wrong.” But, what is right and wrong is open to some debate.

Thus, when human enhancement helps people it is “good,” whereas, when it hurts people, it is “bad.” On the whole, the development of human enhancements has been a great benefit to mankind. Therefore, we must conclude that human enhancement, taken as a whole, is good, and good in a moral sense.

In the future, we should expect to see the development of a number of new techniques to enhance the human condition. And over time, we will become more and more comfortable with them, as we have with previous enhancements (breast implants, plastic surgery, energy drinks, etc.). It is important to remember, however, that we have been using many of these techniques, in some guise or another, for thousands of years: selective breeding, religious experience, and drugs – genetics, virtual reality, and pharmacology.

Here it may be noted that different fields emphasizes different forms or mechanisms of human enhancement; so, it looks like we are going to have a lot to argue about. Psychologists emphasize regulating the brain through drugs and nano-pharmacology. Drugs may be used to alter temperamental characteristics, such as approach and withdrawal, or to help condition behavior. Sociologists emphasize socialization techniques and social engineering. Geneticists focus on altering the genetic code, computer scientists upon AI, communications scholars on influencing interaction styles and upon hypermedia, and gamers upon virtual-genetics and social engineering.

In the end, we are afraid of human enhancement because we are afraid that, “You are not going to be you.” And that is a scary thought. But, there is another option, “You are going to be more you than you ever imagined.”