What are Human Enhancement Technologies?

Standing out from the crowd, outperforming your colleagues and being superior in mind or body is no longer a simple case of self improvement, learning and exercise. Increasingly people are looking towards technology to assist in giving them the advantage.

For decades, we have known the power of technology in medicine to treat illness, injury or deficiency: Just look at the revolutionary contact lens, pacemaker or prosthetic limbs such as this amazing Terminator arm:

However, we’ve outgrown this. Something new is one the horizon: The use of technology to improve a healthy human being with the aim of making her a ‘better’ version of herself.

 

What enhancements are available now?

People are working hard to enhance their performance despite what anyone’s opinion of it is or even what the law will allow. Let’s first look at what is possible… and then decide whether we like it or agree with it.

 

  • Computers (let’s start with the obvious):

Whether it’s a desktop, mobile phone, tablet or smart watch, these tools improve our abilities in countless ways. One key weapon in our arsenal is the Internet, and more specifically: Google. Google is the portal to a global collective intelligence, giving almost everyone access to endless knowledge at their fingertips!

 

  • Mind control (EEG sensors):

Control anything from computer games to machines in the real world with only your thoughts. Companies such as eMotiv and Neurosky offer superpowers that seem to come straight out of a Marvel comic. Their headsets amplify brainwaves and use the data to recognize certain brain activity. It is far from being able to understand your thoughts, but is capable of recognizing a command to ‘turn left’ or to recognize what emotions you are feeling (more here).

 

  • Brain enhancement drugs (nootropics):

Although drugs such as Ritalin and Adreall are often used to help those suffering from ADHD, many people without this disorder have started to use these drugs to increase their focus and concentration. Likewise Modafinl (Provigil) has changed from a treatment for sleep disorders and into a drug that fuels highflying CEOs to work longer hours. (This is not a new idea, just think of the last time you couldn’t concentrate at work and felt the need to grab a cup of coffee?) There are also a number of nootropic drugs being made for the single purpose of enhancing the cognitive abilities of healthy people. Products such as Alpha Brain have shown positive lab results in improving memory recall and peak alpha brainwaves.

 

  • Plastic surgery and dental:

Aesthetic changes may initially seem harmless or ineffective in giving the user any form of advantage. However – in a world ruled by television, billboards and Instagram – enhancing your looks could give you a substantial boost in popularity. It could also improve your charisma and peoples opinion of you (better looking people are often thought to be more trustworthy).

 

  • Super vision beyond 20/20:

Wavefront-guided LASIK is a form of eye surgery that not only corrects the patient’s vision but also has a high chance of improving it for most people. This isn’t simply limited to improvements in how much the person can see, but also enhances the detail and contrast in their vision.

 

  • Performance doping:

I don’t think we can have an article on human enhancement technologies without mentioning Lance Armstrong. Lance was the hero of the cycling world whose impossible feats turned out to be the result (at least in part) of an extremely well organized regime of doping…and hiding doping. Athletic doping is a general way to describe the use of drugs (to boost muscle growth, recovery, reduce pain or reduce heart rate) or transfusions to boost red blood cell production and oxygen intake – with the aim of gaining the marginal advancement it may require to take a world title

 

  • Flow state training:

Being in a state of flow has long been known to improve productivity and efficiency as well as being credited with many moments of discovery and genius insight. A company called Versus has been working with Red Bull High Performance team to analyse and train some of the best extreme athletes in the world. Their headset and tablet applications, train athletes to stay calm under pressure, enter a flow state more easily and to manage stress.

 

What technologies are on the horizon?

 

  • Exoskeletons:

Having ‘Hulk like’ strength is no longer just for the comic books. The military have been experimenting for a long time to find effective ways to make their soldiers stronger and faster. They need to carry all of their gear up a mountain and still be ready to fight for hours when they reach the top. These tools usually take the form of external structures that match seamlessly to the users body dimensions. Although the possible uses go far beyond just the military. What if you were a factory worker, builder or removal man whose competitors all implemented extra strong exoskeletons for their team?

 

  • Embryo selection (5-10years away):

This is one which is especially prone to heated arguments, and also has a large potential to change the balance of power in the world. A number of eggs from a single woman are fertilized in a lab with the sperm of her partner. The lab then matches the genes of each embryo to the genes that are linked to high intelligence. The ‘smartest’ embryo is then selected and implanted back into the mother. Technically they have not enhanced the embryo; instead they have simply selected the smartest choice out of 100 possible children. China is only years away from being able to identify these key genes. It is believed that if China implemented this process on a large scale, within only a couple of generations they could boost the population’s IQ by up to 15 points; meaning no other country in the world would be able to compete. This would make China the leading world super power. Read more here… it’s fascinating!

 

  • Brain implants (neural implants):

Although neural implants mostly exist in the predictions of futurists, there are some variations in use today. A good example would be cochlear implants used to allow totally deaf people to hear and others that help to treat Parkinson’s disease. The predictable and logical progression is to be able to use chip implants directly into the brain. These implants could give the user greatly improved memory, invisible communication with other users, the ability to see infrared or ultraviolet light or even access to ‘Google-like’ databases of information.

 

  • A sixth sense (sensory augmentation):

A simple magnetic implant inside your finger could allow you to actually feel invisible electric fields (how else would you know if a wire is live or not?). Although examples of these abilities do exist and there are small groups of ‘biohackers’ working to improve the capabilities. This technology still has a long way to go before we see them entering the mainstream market.

 

The Super Human Dilemma

There are two common reactions to human enhancement technologies:

  1. “Cool, I want super powers!”
  2. “We are ‘playing God’ and that meddling is probably a bad idea”

There is also a greater concern for the implications of these technologies and the advantages bestowed on the lucky few. We are already seeing a growing divide between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Wealthy countries can afford better education, better nourishment and better health. So what would happen if suddenly they started gaining superhuman cognitive or physical abilities? The gap can only widen.

The speed that new enhancements are adopted could potentially be extremely rapid. If it becomes accepted practice to place a chip into the brain of children, then any parent who can afford the technology would feel obliged to chip their own child in order to let them keep up and have the same opportunities as the other modified kids in class.

 

So is this a good or bad thing? Here are a few example situations supporting each side that may help you to decide:

Pros:

  • If people choose to enhance themselves in unique ways relevant to their area of interest (as suggested by writer and futurist Gennady Stolyarov) e.g. one person chooses language, another art and another mathematics – we could see some incredible achievements, mind blowing ideas and potentially world changing discoveries.
  • Enhancement could benefit those responsible for the safety of others. Maybe the extra concentration could help pilots, bus drivers or boat captains. Maybe super vision could help police and mountain rescue teams.
  • Enhanced cognitive abilities could lead to vast improvements in healthcare and scientific understanding.
  • Mind control could give new found freedom to those suffering paralysis (we have already seen a paralyzed boy kick the opening kick of the world cup using this technology)

https://youtu.be/VPPWYH3eGtI

 

Cons:

  • Employers could start to expect employees to use enhancements to work harder or longer.
  • Doping could become a requirement in order for athletes to compete. Once this happens – just like in formula one – the winner’s podium could end up only 50% ability and 50% technology.
  • If technology gave us perfect memory, how do we decide which memories are better forgotten and which to keep?
  • Would a new breed of enhanced humans emerge, eventually taking advantage of those without enhanced abilities?

Your Choice:

You do not need to use technology enhancements in order to be an extraordinary person: I have always said that being extraordinary can be as simple as a strong work ethic, personal values and the courage to try something even when others say it is not possible. However, on a small scale, you will already have encountered and even adopted enhancement technologies in order to keep up (this article for example took a lot of Google, YouTube and TED talks to compile). You may already be more enhanced than you think!

So the question is then: where do you draw the line when considering enhancements for yourself or your children in order to keep up? How do we know when we have gone too far? Or is this just the inevitable path of a curious and self-improving animal that started thousands of years ago?

 

Let me know your opinion in the comments below!

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