Human enhancement

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For the book, see Human Enhancement (book).
This electrically powered exoskeleton suit has been in development by researchers at the Tsukuba University of Japan.

Human enhancement (Augment) is "any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means. It is the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range."[1][2][3]


Human enhancement technologies (HET) are techniques that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human characteristics and capacities.[4] The expression "human enhancement technologies" is relative to emerging technologies and converging technologies.[5] In some circles, the expression "human enhancement" is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering,[6][7] it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance.[5]

According to the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 report "human augmentation could allow civilian and military people to work more effectively, and in environments that were previously inaccessible". It states that "future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought. Neuro-pharmaceuticals will allow people to maintain concentration for longer periods of time or enhance their learning abilities. Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations."[8]

In terms of technological enhancements, Kevin Warwick lists the possibilities as enhanced memory, enhanced communication, enhanced senses, multi-dimensional thinking, extending the body, in built machine thinking, outsourcing memory, enhanced maths + speed of thinking + problem solving.,[9] He also states that "a person's brain and body do not have to be in the same place".[10]

Existing technologies[edit]

Emerging technologies[edit]

Speculative technologies[edit]

  • Mind uploading, the hypothetical process of "transferring"/"uploading" or copying a conscious mind from a brain to a non-biological substrate by scanning and mapping a biological brain in detail and copying its state into a computer system or another computational device.
  • Exocortex, a theoretical artificial external information processing system that would augment a brain's biological high-level cognitive processes.
  • Endogenous artificial nutrition, such as having a radioisotope generator that resynthesizes glucose (similarly to photosynthesis), amino acids and vitamins from their degradation products, theoretically availing for weeks without food if necessary.


While in some circles the expression "human enhancement" is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering,[6][7] it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance.[5]

Since the 1990s, several academics (such as some of the fellows of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies[14]) have risen to become advocates of the case for human enhancement while other academics (such as the members of President Bush's Council on Bioethics[15]) have become outspoken critics.[16]

Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with “transhumanism”, a controversial ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens to either maintain or modify their own minds and bodies; so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children.[17]

Neuromarketing consultant Zack Lynch argues that neurotechnologies will have a more immediate effect on society than gene therapy and will face less resistance as a pathway of radical human enhancement. He also argues that the concept of "enablement" needs to be added to the debate over "therapy" versus "enhancement".[18]

Although many proposals of human enhancement rely on fringe science, the very notion and prospect of human enhancement has sparked public controversy.[19][20][21]

Dale Carrico wrote that "human enhancement" is a loaded term which has eugenic overtones because it may imply the improvement of human hereditary traits to attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity), and therefore can evoke negative reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the term. Furthermore, Carrico wrote that enhancements which are self-evidently good, like "fewer diseases", are more the exception than the norm and even these may involve ethical tradeoffs, as the controversy about ADHD arguably demonstrates.[22]

However, the most common criticism of human enhancement is that it is or will often be practiced with a reckless and selfish short-term perspective that is ignorant of the long-term consequences on individuals and the rest of society, such as the fear that some enhancements will create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the "haves" and "have-nots".[23][24][25][26] Futurist Ray Kurzweil has shown some concern that, within the century, humans may be required to merge with this technology in order to compete in the marketplace.[citation needed]

Other critics of human enhancement fear that such capabilities would change, for the worse, the dynamic relations within a family. Given the choices of superior qualities, parents make their child as opposed to merely birthing it, and the newborn becomes a product of their will rather than a gift of nature to be loved unconditionally. This is problematic because it could harm the unconditional love a parent ought give their child, and it could furthermore lead to serious disappointment if the child does not fulfill its engineered role.[27]

Accordingly, some advocates, who want to use more neutral language, and advance the public interest in so-called "human enhancement technologies", prefer the term "enablement" over "enhancement";[28] defend and promote rigorous, independent safety testing of enabling technologies; as well as affordable, universal access to these technologies.[16]

Inequality and social disruption[edit]

Some believe that the ability to enhance one's self would reflect the overall goal of human life: to improve fitness and survivability. They claim that it is human nature to want to better ourselves via increased life expectancy, strength, and/or intelligence, and to become less fearful and more independent.[29] In today's world, however, there are stratification among socioeconomic classes that prevent the less wealthy from accessing these enhancements. The advantage gained by one person's enhancements implies a disadvantage to an unenhanced person.[30][8] Human enhancements present a great debate on the equality between the haves and the have-nots. A modern-day example of this would be LASIK eye surgery, which only the wealthy can afford.

The enhancement of the human body could have profound changes to everyday situations. Sports, for instance, would change dramatically if enhanced people were allowed to compete; there would be a clear disadvantage for those who are not enhanced.[30] In regards to economic programs, human enhancements would greatly increase life expectancy which would require employers to either adjust their pension programs to compensate for a longer retirement term, or delay retirement age another ten years or so. When considering birth rates into this equation, if there is no decline with increased longevity, this could put more pressure on resources like energy and food availability. A job candidate enhanced with a neural transplant that heightens their ability to compute and retain information, would outcompete someone who is not enhanced. Another scenario might be a person with a hearing or sight enhancement could intrude on privacy laws or expectations in an environment like a classroom or workplace. These enhancements could go undetected and give individuals an overall advantage.

Unfairness in those who receive enhancements and those who do not is a cause for concern. Although it should be noted that unfairness already exists within our society without the need for human enhancement.[31] An individual taking a math exam may have a better calculator than another, or a better suit at a job interview. The long-term physical advantage through genetic engineering or short-term cognitive advantage of nootropics may be part of a greater issue. The real issue being that of availability.[32] How easy it is for certain individuals to get a hold of such enhancements depending on their socioeconomic standing.

Geoffrey Miller claims that 21st century Chinese eugenics may allow the Chinese to increase the IQ of each subsequent generation by five to fifteen IQ points, and after a couple generations it "would be game over for Western global competitiveness." Miller recommends that we put aside our "self-righteous" Euro-American ideological biases and learn from the Chinese.[33]

Effects on identity[edit]

Human enhancement technologies can impact human identity by affecting one's self-conception.[34] This is problematic because enhancement technologies threaten to alter the self fundamentally to the point where the result is a different and inauthentic person.[citation needed] For example, extreme changes in personality may affect the individual's relationships because others can no longer relate to the new person.[26]

Other issues[edit]

In addition to the issues listed in the ethics section, the enhancement technologies should be sufficiently robust to prevent hacking and interference of human augmentation.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Human enhancement, IEET
  2. ^ Hughes, James (2004). "Human Enhancement on the Agenda". Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  3. ^ Moore, P., "Enhancing Me: The Hope and the Hype of Human Enhancement"
  4. ^ Enhancement Technologies Group (1998). "Writings by group participants". Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  5. ^ a b c Roco, Mihail C. & Bainbridge, William Sims, eds. (2004). Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. Springer. ISBN 1-4020-1254-3. 
  6. ^ a b Agar, Nicholas (2004). Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement. ISBN 1-4051-2390-7. 
  7. ^ a b Parens, Erik (2000). Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 0-87840-780-4. 
  8. ^ a b c "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" (PDF). National Intelligence Council. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 
  9. ^ Warwick, K, "Human Enhancement - The Way Ahead" ACM Ubiquity, October 2014
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Dorlands Medical Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2008-01-30. 
  12. ^ Lanni C, Lenzken SC, Pascale A, et al. (March 2008). "Cognition enhancers between treating and doping the mind". Pharmacol. Res. 57 (3): 196–213. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2008.02.004. PMID 18353672. 
  13. ^ "So you're a cyborg – now what?". CNN. 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  14. ^ Bailey, Ronald (2006). "The Right to Human Enhancement: And also uplifting animals and the rapture of the nerds". Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  15. ^ Members of the President's Council on Bioethics (2003). Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. President's Council on Bioethics. 
  16. ^ a b Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4198-1. 
  17. ^ Ford, Alyssa (May–June 2005). "Humanity: The Remix". Utne Magazine. Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  18. ^ R. U. Sirius (2005). "The NeuroAge: Zack Lynch In Conversation With R.U. Sirius". Life Enhancement Products. 
  19. ^ The Royal Society & The Royal Academy of Engineering (2004). "Nanoscience and nanotechnologies (Ch. 6)" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  20. ^ European Parliament (2006). "Technology Assessment on Converging Technologies" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-01-12. 
  21. ^ European Parliament (2009). "Human Enhancement" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-01-12. 
  22. ^ Carrico, Dale (2007). "Modification, Consent, and Prosthetic Self-Determination". Retrieved 2007-04-03. 
  23. ^ Mooney, Pat Roy (2002). "Beyond Cloning: Making Well People "Better"". Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  24. ^ Fukuyama, Francis (2002). Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-23643-7. 
  25. ^ Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. "Human "Enhancement"". Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  26. ^ a b Michael Hauskeller, Better Humans?: Understanding the Enhancement Project, Acumen, 2013, ISBN 978-1-84465-557-1.
  27. ^ Sandel, Michael J. (2004). "The Case Against Perfection". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  28. ^ Good, Better, Best: The Human Quest for Enhancement Summary Report of an Invitational Workshop. Convened by the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program. American Association for the Advancement of Science. June 1–2, 2006. Author: Enita A. Williams. Edited by: Mark S. Frankel.
  29. ^ Berry, Roberta (July 2010). "A polemic for human enhancement". Metascience. Springer Netherlands. 19 (2): 263–266. doi:10.1007/s11016-010-9361-z. ISSN 1467-9981. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  30. ^ a b Allhoff, Fritz; Patrick Lin; Jesse Steinberg (June 2011). "Ethics of Human Enhancement: An Executive Summary". Science and Engineering Ethics. Springer Netherlands. 17 (2): 201–212. doi:10.1007/s11948-009-9191-9. ISSN 1471-5546. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  31. ^ Farah, Martha J. "Emerging ethical issues in neuroscience". Nature Neuroscience. 5 (11): 1123–1129. doi:10.1038/nn1102-1123. 
  32. ^ Greely, Henry; Sahakian, Barbara; Harris, John; Kessler, Ronald C.; Gazzaniga, Michael; Campbell, Philip; Farah, Martha J. "Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy". Nature. 456 (7223): 702–705. doi:10.1038/456702a. 
  33. ^ Geoffrey Miller. "What should we be worried about?". Edge. 
  34. ^ DeGrazia, David (2005). "Enhancement Technologies and Human Identity" (PDF). Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 30: 261–283. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 

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