Reading Ancient Sci-Fi to Understand the Present

Time-traveling back to antiquity might help us think about the human transformations of the future.

Plato relates that Prometheus was “desperate to find some means of survival for the human race,” so he appropriated the technology of fire from the gods to bestow on puny mortals. With the gift of fire, men and women could make tools and figure out ways to compensate for their pitiful physical shortcomings.

Artificial improvements to overcome the limitations of the human body and to expand natural strength, sensory apparatus and abilities — now known as human enhancement technologies — may seem like cutting-edge science. We often hear both pessimists and proponents claim that our current technology — including artificial intelligence and genetic engineering — is unprecedented, unique to modernity. Yet the concepts of augmenting human capabilities are ancient, as are the qualms they evoke.

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