A new understanding of brain chemistry could usher in an age of biologically enhanced humans.

June 6, 2025, 7:30 a.m. The alarm is going off, and I feel great. Thanks to Reposinex, I’ve had a full four hours of deep, restorative sleep. My head hit the pillow, and boom! I was right into slow-wave delta sleep. In the car, driving to work, I sip an Achieve latte. I love these things—they sensitize my dopamine receptors, shift my MAO levels, and send my noradrenaline levels soaring. I have no jitters, and my concentration is tack-sharp. Driving used to freak me out, actually. I was involved in a bad accident a few years back. Good thing the doctor prescribed that trauma blunter. I still remember the accident; it just doesn’t bug me anymore. I’m no longer one of those Human 1.0s—I’m a human with complete control of his brain chemistry.

June 6, 2005, 7:30 p.m. Ramez Naam has a queen and a six face-up on the green felt of the blackjack table. The dealer shows a six. The obviously correct strategy is for Naam to stay, but this is his first time gambling at a casino, and nothing is obvious to him. Naam is 32, with dark hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He peers uncertainly at his hand through blue-rimmed glasses, then taps the table with his fingertips. The dealer flips a card: a jack. Naam is out. He’s blown through his $40 stack of chips in less than 10 minutes.

Designing software for Microsoft is Naam’s job; envisioning the future—one in which biotechnology would allow us to shatter natural evolutionary limits—is his calling. A senior member of futurist think tanks such as the Acceleration Studies Foundation and the Foresight Institute, he speaks regularly at technology trade shows and is the author of the provocative new book More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. Like most overachievers, Naam doesn’t like to lose. In blackjack and in life, of course, many factors are beyond our control—we can’t choose what we’re dealt, from the card deck or the genetic one—and Naam argues that we should change the restrictive rules of the biological game. He asks: What if you could pop a pill to make you remember more, think faster, or become happier or higher-achieving? What if there were safe steroids for the brain? You could effectively stack the deck, and the payoff could be huge.

The prospect of drug-enabled superminds is not just a futurist’s fantasy. In the past 20 years, scientists—aided by advances in computing, brain imaging and genetic engineering—have made significant progress toward understanding the biochemical systems that regulate cognition and emotion. This knowledge has raised the possibility of manipulating those systems more powerfully and precisely than ever before. One prominent neuroscientist, Anjan Chatterjee, calls what’s coming the era of cosmetic neurology. “Prospecting for better brains may be the new gold rush,” he says.

Roman Casino, where I’ve met Naam, is Caesars Palace on a serious budget, located in a strip mall near Seattle rather than on the Strip in Vegas. Coming here was my idea. A casino—where quick thinking, a good memory and control of your emotions can pay—seemed like a fitting backdrop for getting an overview of the possibilities of enhancement drugs. After a fruitless go at the tables, Naam and I retreat to the bar and order rum-and-Cokes.

“We’ve been enhancing ourselves since the dawn of civilization,” he says. The latest drugs are, to be sure, considerably more complex than the caffeine and alcohol we’re sending toward our bloodstream at the moment. And the way new enhancement pills reach us is complex as well: A pharmaceutical company develops a medication to treat a recognized physical or mental illness; people gradually realize that the drug can help healthy users too; doctors prescribe the substance to patients “off label,” meaning for purposes other than the ones recognized by the Food and Drug Administration; and other people obtain it illegally. Thus, college students end up popping Ritalin to help them ace exams. Concert pianists take propranolol, a hypertension and angina medication, to ease preperformance jitters. And coffee addicts switch to Provigil, a sleep-disorder medication, for powerful, enduring, jitter-free stimulation.

Naam argues that we shouldn’t be limited to using bootlegs of therapeutic drugs (FDA rules prohibit the development of drugs just for enhancement). If companies could turn their attention directly to the task, he says, “in the next few decades, we could create new drugs to sculpt or alter any aspect of human behavior: infatuation, pair-bonding, empathy, appetite, spirituality, thrill-seeking, arousal, even sexual orientation.”

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