For somewhat work-related purposes, I recently read Supermen – Tales of the Posthuman Future, edited by Gardner Dozois.  It’s a collection of short stories reaching back to the 50’s, all of which address the idea of humanity becoming new and different in some fundamental way.  My favorite stories out of the collection have to be Understand, by Ted Chiang, and Mortimer Grey’s History of Death, by Brian Stableford.  Dancers in the Time Flux, by Robert Silverburg, and The Wedding Album, by David Marusek also stood out for me.

Many of the stories in this collection deal with the various potential forms of immortality, and what that might mean for us.  Radical genetic adaptation to hostile environments came up a couple of times, though almost always from the outside looking in.  Interestingly, though, not a single one of these stories brought up a technology which I believe would result in an equally profound transformation in human society, if not human nature – the ability to accurately detect lies.

If this does not strike you as a fundamentally transformative technology, just imagine – a political debate in which every participant told the truth about their own beliefs, plans, and intentions.  A legal system in which it could be absolutely guaranteed that every participant – plaintiff, defendant, witness, lawyer, or judge – was telling the truth.  True and verified honesty in advertising.  Yeah, just imagine.

The idea of reliable verification of veracity is not entirely unexplored territory.  In E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen novels, the superhuman Lensmen could only attain that status if they were true paragons of honesty and virtue – should they stray from the path, they would no longer wield the power of the Lens.  Philip Jose Farmer’s Dayworld novel uses the existence of a reliable truth serum as a key piece of the setting – the protagonist is only able to maintain his deceitful life because he has harnessed the power of multiple personality disorder to create personae for each Day which could, in full honesty, claim to be a proper resident of that Day.  Nick Harkaway’s truly awful Angelmaker imagined a device which allowed humans to truly see and understand themselves and others, without delusion or deception – and he proposed that it would be an apocalyptic technology of doom which destroyed the individual and would destroy humanity.

Overlooking “social tech” is not exactly a new problem in SF, and in many ways a proper technology for verifying the truth may well be beyond the bounds of Transhumanism.  But I did find it interesting that for all the discussion of intelligence enhancement and Zero-G adaptation, there was no real discussion of trying to change greed, dishonesty, or the lust for power at the genetic level.  Who knows if such is possible – but then, there are a lot of pretty implausible technologies on discussion in the book.  What’s one more?