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Consciousness Augmentation
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Emerging Topic:

2.4Consciousness Augmentation

Associated Sub-Fields

Even though there is no standard definition of consciousness, in the medical context, methods have had to be devised to verify its presence or absence, to define whether a patient is in a vegetative state, and whether they can be expected to return to normal conscious state. In this arena, the lack of agreement on what consciousness is does not prevent us adopting technologies and conceptual advances that help make decisions. As with many medical applications, these technologies will start in a clinical setting, but the insights they yield will eventually benefit the broader population.

This is because the same technologies that restore consciousness when there is a deficit or disorder can be pressed into service to enhance or augment healthy, functioning consciousness. Using tools devised from an array of disciplines, including robotics, optogenetics and virtual reality, it has been possible to augment missing or damaged sensory inputs to consciousness — or add entirely new ones. Similarly, research can pinpoint specific aspects of healthy consciousness that we might wish to enhance beyond current limits, for example attention, empathy and memory. Such insights will fundamentally change current approaches to education but also will have consequences in the workplace and in military contexts. Eventually, they may also yield a way to define the presence and quality of consciousness across different species, and this could have radical consequences for how we understand the other animals with which we share the planet. It would also make it much easier to set boundaries on how we allow ourselves to treat either the creatures we create the creatures we use in labs, or the creatures that simply suffer because of the way we treat the world.

Selection of GESDA best reads and further key reports

In 2019, Michel et al published “Opportunities and Challenges for a Maturing Science of Consciousness”, which closely examined the field’s potential.1 Tononi and Koch’s “Consciousness: Here, There and Everywhere?” provides an overview of the issues involved in developing a theory of consciousness, as well as the authors’ take on what such a theory might look like.2 Dresler et al’s “Hacking the Brain: Dimensions of Cognitive Enhancement” explores the various approaches to augmenting our natural cognitive abilities.3

Efforts to augment human consciousness were assessed to have some of lowest requirements for anticipatory planning. There is already decent awareness of the main tools and respondents judged their potential for transformative impact to be fairly low. Interestingly, nootropics, which were highlighted as a topic to watch in cognitive enhancement, was rated as most in need of anticipation here as well. Part of the reason for the low scores may be that the impact of this field will be felt primarily at the level of the individual rather than society at large. There is also still a lot of work required to define what exactly is meant by consciousness.

GESDA Best Reads and Key Resources