November 7, 2008

Brain boosters at the workplace

MacLean's Magazine has published an article about the potential for 'smart drugs' to be used at the workplace and for employers to pressure their workers into taking them. Transhumanist philosopher Anders Sandberg was interviewed for the article. Excerpt:
What would lead healthy people to experiment with drugs originally designed to treat serious ailments? A number of factors are at work, say experts. In some cases, it's as simple as trying to cope with long work hours or jet lag. But there's also a sense among many of those seeking cognitive enhancers that mankind just wasn't cut out to sit at a computer all day crunching numbers and splicing spreadsheets. "A lot of enhancers are more or less about fitting us into the modern world rather than the African savannah where our ancestors roamed," says Anders Sandberg, a research fellow at Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. "Cognitive enhancement drugs are going to involve trade-offs with evolution."

At the same time, a greying population means some people are on the hunt for ways to keep their mental faculties sharp. While modern medicine has extended the best-before date of the human body, the same can't be said for the brain. That's a problem for the millions of baby boomers who plan to continue working well into old age. This point was driven home earlier this year when the U.S. military put out a call for companies to develop a smart drug that could keep its aging soldiers in fighting form, both physically and mentally. Such a drug would also have huge commercial potential. "The world contains approximately 4.2 billion people over the age of 20," the U.S. army noted in its call for bids. "Even a small enhancement of cognitive capacity in these individuals would probably have an impact on the world economy rivaling that of the Internet."

In the meantime, there's no shortage of people willing to experiment with existing pharmaceuticals. One poster on an online forum recently boasted that by mixing deprenyl, a drug developed for Parkinson's sufferers, and Inderal, a hypertension treatment, he was able to give speeches and presentations better than ever before. Talk like that scares Zack Lynch, executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, which represents neuroscience companies. "People need to realize these drugs haven't been clinically tested on healthy individuals," he says. "It could be that serious side effects don't show up until 20 years down the road."

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