Surveying Views on Enhancement Technologies, such as Longevity Therapies

You'll no doubt recall that the Pew Research Center ran a survey a few years back showing that most people didn't want to live longer lives, were that possibility on offer through progress in medical science. There are indications that this result is obtained because the mistaken assumption that people make is that longevity assurance therapies would lead to a longer period of old age rather than a longer period of youthfulness. Later studies suggest that people are all for longer lives if that prospect is explicitly tied to remaining healthy and youthful. Pew Research more recently followed up with a related survey on selection of enhancement technologies to expand or increase human capacities, resulting in a similar set of data for some of the technologies that will become available in the near future. For my money, there are clearly large differences between what people say at the dawn of a new technology, and what they later do when that technology is available.

For millennia, humans have been dreaming about vaulting past our biological limits, from natural constraints on our intellect and physicality to our very mortality. But now, according to some researchers and futurists, we may be on the cusp of a scientific revolution that could give each of us an opportunity to cross these boundaries and live longer and stronger than any human being before us. And yet, a pair of Pew Research Center surveys on life extension and human enhancement show that many U.S. adults are not ready to embrace these possibilities, whether it be in their own lives or in society more broadly. In our 2013 survey on radical life extension, 56% of adults said they would not want to live at least 120 years, which is considered the current upper limit of the human life span. Likewise, roughly two-thirds of adults in our 2016 poll on human enhancement said they would not want a brain chip implant to improve their cognitive abilities (66%) or synthetic blood to augment their physical abilities (63%). American adults were somewhat more open to the possibility of using gene editing to reduce the risk of serious disease in babies, with 48% saying they would be interested, but a similar share (50%) said they would not want to use the technology on their baby.

For many people, both potential advancements also raised concerns about increasing social inequality. Two-thirds of those polled about radical life extension thought the option would only be available to the wealthy. At least as many in the human enhancement survey shared this concern, saying that moving forward with the three emerging technologies outlined in the survey - brain implants, synthetic blood and gene editing for babies - would increase inequality because they would only be available to those who are well-off. Two-thirds of American adults also said scientists would offer life extension technologies before their impact was fully understood. Again, this wariness is matched and even exceeded in the human enhancement survey; more than seven-in-ten adults said brain, blood and gene enhancements would be employed before their effects were fully understood.

Even though the two surveys were conducted separately, they are thematically linked, since research efforts to dramatically extend human life and to "enhance" human beings are occurring in tandem and sometimes together. In fact, the line between the two areas often is blurred. Many scientists and advocates who want to make people stronger and smarter also want to make them healthier and longer-lived, and those who are working to increase longevity and limit the effects of aging in human beings often want to enhance their capabilities as well. One interesting difference between our polling work on life extension and on human enhancement involves the factors that are contributing to these views. It turns out that religion plays a more prominent role in driving people's concerns about human enhancement than life extension. For instance, among highly religious people (based on an index of common measures), only 24% say they would want cognitive enhancement, compared with 44% of those with low levels of religious commitment. A similar gap exists when these two groups are asked about gene editing and synthetic blood.



This survey is not useful because it asked the wrong questions. For example, of course I want to live indefinitely long youthful life span. I am into biotechnological life extension. However, I do not want a chip implant in my brain (because I dislike non-biological stuff in my body), have no desire for the synthetic blood as they describe it, and since I have no kids and no desire to have them, have no use or interest for the genetic design of kids.

As you can see, someone who is into radical life extension such as myself could answer "no" to all three survey questions, thus leading the Pew researchers into thinking that I am a luddite.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at September 15th, 2016 11:30 AM

Same for me. Perhaps that is a sign that many life extensionists today aren't transhumanists (at least in the broad sense).

Posted by: Antonio at September 15th, 2016 11:42 AM

Agreed chaps, I'm fine with transhumanist approaches because they could benefit me indirectly, however I don't intend to use them on myself. I prefer to stay purely biological.

Posted by: Spede at September 15th, 2016 1:49 PM

Fourthed. I too have no desire for non-biological solutions, and find talk of them, and the whole 'transhumanist/singulatarian' approach a distraction at best and downright hardful at worst (by diverting funds away from biological approaches).

Posted by: Vasco at September 20th, 2016 10:29 AM
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