Have you ever heard about “Augmented Human”?
The field of human augmentation (sometimes referred to as “Human 2.0”) focuses on creating cognitive and physical improvements as an integral part of the human body.
Human augmentation is generally used to refer to technologies that enhance human productivity or capability, or that somehow add to the human body.
Upgrading our biology may sound like science fiction, but attempts to improve humanity actually date back thousands of years. Every day, we enhance ourselves through specific activities such as exercising or consuming performance-enhancing drugs, such as caffeine. However, the tools with which we upgrade our biology are improving at an accelerating rate and becoming increasingly better.
Human enhancement has been advocated most forcefully by self-identified transhumanists. Transhumanism is an international movement with the explicit aim of supporting human enhancement technology to improve human life.
Human enhancement technologies can be seen as essential to our advancement or an area of growing concern.
A human shift
Most biomedical interventions have attempted to restore something perceived to be deficient, such as mobility, hearing or vision.
Many futurists argue that our devices, such as our smartphones or any connected devices you might wear, are already an extension of our cortex and in many ways an abstract form of enhancement.
Think about it, that phone you carry is an extension of your brain.
Beyond that, wearable devices and computers are already accessible in the market, and people like athletes use them to improve their performance.
But thanks to recent scientific developments in areas such as biotechnology, information technology, and nanotechnology, mankind may be on the verge of an enhancement revolution. In the next two decades, people may have the option to change themselves in ways that, up to now, have existed largely in the minds of science fiction writers.
The human body is treated by many as an obsolescent technology in need of serious improvements.
From healing to improving people…
This new era of augmented humans may well be prompted by ongoing efforts to help people with disabilities and heal the sick. Indeed, science is already making rapid progress in new restorative technologies that could, in theory, pave the way to human enhancement.
Some would express fear that emerging augmentations would create an arms race, that threatens to leave behind those who choose not to be augmented.
Augmentation ought to be seen less as a solution than as a tool you can use to build yourself in new directions.
So where is all of this new and powerful technology taking humanity? Well, it depends…
Some highly influential futurists such as Ray Kurzweil think that we are on the cusp of an era when human beings will be able to direct their own evolution.
Still, even some transhumanists who admire Kurzweil’s work do not entirely share his belief that we will soon be living entirely virtual lives.
“I don’t share Ray’s view that we will be disembodied,” says Vita-More, who along with her husband, philosopher Max More, helped found the transhumanist movement in the United States. “We will always have a body, even though that body will change.”
However, devices and drugs that improve athletic performance can lead us to question their legitimacy.
Will being augmented make us happier?
What is happiness?
Dan Faggella, the founder of TechEmergence, thinks the real change will be about expanding our consciousness. The desire to be smarter and stronger will quickly give way to a quest for a new kind of happiness. “In the last 200 years, technology has made us like gods … and yet people today are roughly as happy as they were before,” he says. “So, I believe that becoming a super-Einstein isn’t going to make us happier and … that ultimately we’ll use enhancement to fulfill our wants and desires rather than just make ourselves more powerful.”
In the end, we should question ourselves about what is happiness? Is there a limit to happiness? I do like the definition given by Don Draper “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”. I doubt that being augmented will give us eternal happiness.
Rich and Poor
What about social class?
We can imagine that the rich and privileged gain access to expensive new enhancement treatments long before the middle class or poor and then use these advantages to widen an already wide gap between rich and poor.
Our political system is based on the empirical fact of natural human equality. We vary greatly as individuals and by culture, but we share a common humanity. Some might argue that it is one of the last building blocks of our society… our mutual weakness when facing death.
I wonder if we are about to create a society with even more injustice. Indeed, it might become even harder to climb the social ladder if we add performance-based physical discriminations…
Human enhancement in popular culture
Are we being already conditioned to accept human augmentations?
This idea of going beyond our physical limits is not new in our popular culture. Indeed, the ancient Greeks told of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, and Daedalus, who made wings for himself and his son, Icarus. Moreover, in the opening chapters of Genesis, the Hebrew Bible depicts a successful incident of human enhancement, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because the Serpent told them it would make them “like God.”
Recently, I noticed an increase in the number of movies/video games using this idea of human augmentation. Some of them promoting it and others highlighting the bad effects it can have on us.
Can we consider this massive push of human augmentation in culture as a way to prepare our minds into accepting it?
Should there be any ethical or legal boundaries to technologies that enhance humans?
One thing is certain, right now, there is a common equality because we are all human. But all of this changes once we start giving some people significantly new powers might create issues. I think at some point it will be inevitable that enhanced people will see the unenhanced as subhuman. While most Americans agree that enhancement would improve an individual’s quality of life, two-thirds are worried about negative effects to society. People who reject these technologies for religious, philosophical, or moral reasons risk making not only themselves but their children and their children’s children a part of that permanent underclass.
Therefore, will governments be forced to vote specific laws related to this prevent bigger discriminations? How shall we distribute these genetic enhancements in the world population?
Maybe you would like to remain a human just as you are. Or maybe you would like the option of a simple upgrade by means of a neural implant, why not take it to step by step if you can. Finally, there is the ultimate choice, simply get rid of your “weak” human body and replace it with a robotic one.
Will we even have the choice?
What would happen is the AI that we cannot prevent from being developed would achieve sentience and become self-aware, free-willed vastly superior life forms which would replace us. Most likely Humans would simply become extinct. At best we might be kept as pets, but even as that, sooner or later we would eventually become extinct.
My opinion is that as humans, we need to be careful with how we intend to use technology. It might help us but also destroy what is human in us…