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Review - Upgrade Me: our amazing journey to Human 2.0 - Brian Clegg 



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I've read a lot of books about evolution – but Brian Clegg’s book takes a startling look at the way we have gone beyond evolution. Far beyond. Upgrade Me is about the way that human beings have used our brains to exceed our basic capabilities. Tellingly, it’s not all about the high tech stuff that springs to mind when we think about enhanced humans. Clegg points out that part of the inspiration for the book was going on a long walk on a hot day. For an animal to evolve the capability to survive in a very dry environment with no water around for days, would take millions of years of evolution. We just go out and buy a water bottle.

Clegg’s thesis is that our urge to upgrade was inspired by the development of the ability to see beyond the present. It was the first time our ancestors could think about the future, and wonder ‘what if?’ From that came our awareness of what could go wrong and the inspiration to go much further than evolution, which biologists will tell you effectively stopped over 100,000 years ago, made possible. The main part of the book is divided into five sections, five applications of this urge. These are extending our life - once we realized we were going to die, cosmetic improvements to make us better at attracting a mate and to give social standing, improvements in our (very feeble) natural strength, enhancements to the brain that enabled us to upgrade ourselves in the first place, and repairs to failings in our body.

Generally the mood is very upbeat, and Clegg takes on those who see enhancement as being unnatural, making us something unhuman and undesirable, in a way that puts them firmly in their place. He also casts doubts on the ‘Singularity’ concept (see Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near) that implies that fairly soon in the future we will merge with electronics to become Human 2.0. That doubt arises from the fact that we are already far beyond version 1 – and though the enhancements described here do sometimes involve incorporating technology in the body, the extrapolation used to suggest the Singularity will soon be on us appears to be flawed.

If I have a negative comment it's that once or twice there are just too many examples thrown at us of the different ways we have modified ourselves through history – I wasn’t too interested in the part on clothing, for example – but it serves to make the point.

Sometimes the best part is finding an unexpected application that takes you by surprise – seeing how dogs, one of our earliest technologies that is still in use, have become a significant human upgrade, for example. Or discovering the amazing possibilities from combining high technology with our bodies, whether in enhancing our senses or producing living, moving tattoos. All in all, a thought provoking and thoughtful read. Recommended.

Only in hardback.

Reviewed by Peet Morris.

Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion - and we could hardly omit the book - but do want to make the connection clear.

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Last update 16 April 2011