The Ethics of Cognitive Enhancement
The Atlantic has an interview with Duke bioethicist Allen Buchanan on the fascinating topic of the ethics of using technology to enhance ones cognitive capabilities. From the interview,
...Some athletes, or even a majority of athletes, would prefer not to use enhancement drugs, but they do so in a defensive manner to prevent being put at a disadvantage when others use them. It's also a concern with the off-label use of drugs like Adderall, drugs that have not been developed specifically for the kind of cognitive enhancement they are often used for.
The worst case scenario is where large amounts of people feel this pressure to use a drug even though they would prefer not to do it, and it's happening in a kind of unregulated context as it is now (with Adderall) and many people may be led to set aside reasonable worries about bad side effects because of this pressure, this soft coercion you're talking about. We have a huge unregulated experiment going on in this country, and in many other advanced countries I suspect, where a large population of university students are using these drugs, and that's unfortunate because it might be that five years from now or ten years from now it's going to be discovered that these drugs have some large scale adverse effect. It would be better if we would bring these cognitive enhancement drugs out of the closet, and do regular clinical double-blind trails with them, and genotype the people that take them and later if there's an adverse effect, see if it only affects people with a certain genotype, and be in a better position to prevent the wide diffusion of these drugs before they're safe.
Again, though, it's not confined to cognitive enhancement drugs or biomedical enhancements; I'm sure there are lots of people who used to be able to qualify for a job without an advanced degree, and now they have to have an advanced degree, and so they're "coerced" into getting that degree whether they think it gives them that much benefit or not. Similarly, if you're raising a child in a society where literacy is a necessary condition for any job worth having, you're going to be under pressure to make sure your child learns how to read and write. So these aren't necessarily bad things, they're only bad if they lead people to disregard reasonable worries about the risks of these technologies.