Human augmentation is a form of evolution that our species has taken in its own hands and it is not going to be stopped. Eventually it might end up in the creation of a new species through bio-engineering that modifies the genome. We are still far from that although the main hurdles are more in the ethical and social domain than in the technological one (we do not have the knowledge to apply the technology we already have that would lead to a new species creation although we are already seeing work in this direction with the application of deep neural networks and more generally artificial intelligence to understand the connection between the genotype and the phenotype and as next step to design the genotype based on the desired phenotype).
Frost&Sullivan Visionary Innovation Group has listed a number of areas where human body augmentation will serve on the path towards transhumanism:
- Increased Attractiveness
- Enhanced Sensing
- Sport optimisation
- Digital biometrics
- Ubiquitous and continual monitoring
- Optimised diet
- Enhanced strength
- Disease free bodies
- Extreme ageing
- Enhanced Intelligence
- Digital hardware enhancement
I have listed the various application areas according to my feeling of time occurrence, with the first one, Increased attractiveness, already happening and the last one not likely to happen anytime soon.
Of course, for each of these areas there are different degrees of fulfilment (ambition) and way of achieving them. As an example, we have plenty of plastic surgery being performed to increase attractiveness (curiously, may be a Freudian slip, I first typed Increase “attractivemess” which is something happening when plastic surgery goes too far….). In the future some genomic tweaking may result in the same increase of attractiveness without need of surgery. Like your offspring to be tall? A little genomic modification and there you have it! Likewise, one might claim that we already have some sort of “Enhanced Intelligence” through the use of tablets, smartphones to grab information from the web.
Let’s start discussing each area.
- Increased attractiveness
From as far as we can go back in time humankind has tried to enhance personal attractiveness, colouring (sometime scarring) the skin, elongating the neck, constraining the feet to remain small, increasing the muscle size and so on. Of course, attractiveness changes across cultures and what can be attractive here may be unpleasant there.
Cosmetics goes back several thousands years and technology has contributed significantly to cosmetics. Nanotech is now providing more options in cosmetics and electronics has also found way into cosmetics. Flexible electronics as well as on skin-printable electronics will provide means to create a novel line of skin jewels, sparkling skin in the real sense.
Plastic surgery is widespread and will get better with the availability of new materials. Smart materials will allow reshaping of body parts.
Genomic and bio-engineering are already supporting the selection of specific traits in In Vitro Fertilisation so that couple can choose the colour of the eyes of their baby…
These growing set of possibilities are opening up a set of social and ethical issues, including the gap between those who can afford this “un-natural selection” and those who cannot (choosing the sex of the future baby may cost over 15,000$). Of course, one could say that also in the past rich people could afford a life and choices that most other people could not…