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SAS Delphi results – Augmented Humans

Electrodes implanted onto the retina at the back of the eye send electrical signals to the brain when the photoreceptors have stopped working. Credit: University of Michigan/courtesy of Second Sight Medical Products

Area 3- Augmented Humans

Bio-engineering and smart materials are converging in creating implants that can monitor life functions and expand life functionality, like eye implants first designed to recover sight might eventually provide 10x sight capability and extend human sight in the ultraviolet/infrared range (and beyond). DNA and RNA engineering can expand humans “by design”.

Q 3.1

Plastic surgery has become an accepted practice to modify one’s body. By 2050 will human

augmentation be as normal as plastic surgery is today?

The vast majority of experts feels that human augmentation will be considered normal in the 2050 timeframe. However, there will likely be several types of augmentation and more will be surfacing so it is most likely that a few will be considered normal, other unusual and quite a few will be subject of ethical and societal debate on their acceptability.

Certain aspects of human augmentation, like increased resistance to diseases, DNA based fitness (eg. obesity control) …, are likely to become normal. Other aspects, like increased sensorial capabilities may become feasible but scarcely adopted and may be subject to social dislike as it happened with Google Glass that in a way provided a form of sight augmentation. The idea that human augmentation is a possibility will become pervasive and that will pave the wave to widespread adoption towards the end of the century.

Surveys of Millennials already show a willingness to consider implanted devices.

Q 3.2

Will sense augmentation (such as the possibility to use eye implants to detect electromagnetic radiation outside of natural visual spectrum) become normal or will it be relegated to a few niches?

Whilst there seems to be a consensus that sense augmentation will become normal in military applications, its adoption in other areas will probably be on a need-to-have bases. In some niches and in some social classes it may become a distinguishing feature.

Q 3.3

Would augmentation become a professional advantage and as such will people seek augmentation to find better jobs?

In general there is a consensus that certain types of augmentation will provide a competitive advantage in some jobs and people will seek them. Clearly this is both going to
– stimulate more people to adopt those augmentation to remain competitive, and

– raise legal issue on asking for those augmentation in a job description, as today one may be asked to be fluent in a certain language.
This is an area that is bound to generate many “labour” dispute and it will not be easy to regulate.

Q 3.4

Will there be a planet-wide agreement on the use of genetic modification technologies, like CRISPR/Cas9, or different will countries adopt different regulations?

Although we are far from using genetic manipulation for human augmentation, it is within the future possibilities. The debate today is on the ethical permissibility to tweak with the human genome and we already see that there is no global agreement, rather a Country by Country debate and regulation. All the experts agree that it will remain a Country by Country area of regulation (although, of course, some Countries may agree on adopting the same rules, as it is likely the case for the European Union).

Q 3.5

Will DNA engineering become a technology for augmentation, sometimes preferred to implants because it will be considered less invasive?

General consensus is, in the long term, to have the technology and understanding for changing the DNA in ways that lead to human augmentation. In the shorter term, however, DNA modification will be restricted to repair genetic disorders. In the medium term, 2040, it is expected to see the first DNA modification to augment human resistance to adverse factors, like long space travel. Only in the longer term, second half of this century DNA modification might be considered for general human augmentation. Once experience is gained and trust ensured DNA modification might be seen as preferable to chip implants.

Q 3.6

Will parents make extra effort to augment their children?

Almost unanimous consensus on parents embracing augmentation for their children.

Q 3.7

Will human augmentation by 2050 be a stepping stone to transhumans (the creation of a new species)?

Almost general consensus that human augmentation will not lead to transhumanism.

2050 is foreseen as too soon to have transhumans, in the sense of the creation of a new species.

However, the cultural idea of transhuman as a symbiotic entity leveraging seamlessly from technology and having new perceptions and cultures seems to be probable.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.