„The mind is the final frontier”: How politics of converging technologies aim to shape the connections between the individual and society (2006, Presentation, Lausanne)

Petra Schaper-Rinkel (24.08.2006), „The mind is the final frontier”: How politics of converging technologies aim to shape the connections between the individual and society, Vortrag auf der EASST Conference “Reviewing Humanness:
Bodies, Technologies and Spaces”, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, 23rd-26th August 2006.


It is paradoxical that this age of individualism is crowned by the vanishing of the individual brain, which will be taken up by a ‘global brain’. This is at least the major goal of scenarios in technology policy. An US government-sponsored conference marked 2001 the beginning of a international discussion about politics of converging technologies. The phrase convergent technologies refers to the combination of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science (NBIC). According to the conference report, activities that accelerate convergence of technologies for “improving human performance” must be improved. In contrast to this ‘engineering of the mind’ approach, a European Expert Group (established by the European Commission) prioritizes ‘engineering for the mind’.

While it is possible to say that ‘smart drugs’ (psychopharmacology) strengthen or boost a persons own specific cognitive abilities, enhancing by brain implants or brain machine interfaces mean to build direct links between individual and collective mental abilities. The human mind and the human brain are the cores of ‘being human’, so increasing technological means of neuroimaging and manipulating brain functions will change individual and group identities.

Future neurotechnologies and neuro-enhancement will lead to a transformation of humanness. The transformation of humanness caused by neurocognitive intervention can be seen either as self-actualizing, or as eroding personal identity. This depends on basic concepts of the relationship between individual and society (individualistic view versus societal view) and human and technology (alienation versus enhancement).

In the first part of the paper, I will present a brief overview of neuro-enhancement technologies in different areas (especially in medicine and military scenarios). Second, I will outline the historical and technological context of neurotechnologies and methods of neuro-enhancement. Third, I will give an overview of the political dimensions of neuro-enhancement (polity, policies and politics). In conclusion I will distinguish three different political strategies for the future of neuro-enhancement technologies.