Human Enhancement
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Human Enhancement
This electrically powered exoskeleton suit has been in development by researchers at the Tsukuba University of Japan.

Human enhancement 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

Emerging technologies

Speculative technologies

  • 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.


There are many substances that are purported to have promise in augmenting human cognition by various means. These substances are called nootropics and can potentially benefit individuals with cognitive decline and many different disorders, but may also be capable of yielding results in cognitively healthy persons. Some examples of these include Huperzine A, Phosphatidylserine, Bacopa monnieri,[14]Gotu Kola,[15]Acetyl-l-Carnitine,[16]Uridine monophosphate, L-theanine,[17][18][19] Rhodiola rosea, and Pycnogenol which are all forms of dietary supplement. There are also nootropic drugs such as Noopept (Omberacetam),[20][21][22]Semax, and N-Acetyl Semax.[23] There are also nootropics related to naturally occurring substances but that are either modified in a lab or are analogs such as Vinpocetine and Sulbutiamine. Additionally, some substances can be inhaled for a potential nootropic benefit such as Rosemary essential oil[24] which shows potential for aiding memory and affecting mood.[25]


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[26]) 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[27]) have become outspoken critics.[28]

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.[29]

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".[30]

Although many proposals of human enhancement rely on fringe science, the very notion and prospect of human enhancement has sparked public controversy.[31][32][33]

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.[34][clarification needed]

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".[35][36][37][38] 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.[]

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 could give their child, and it could furthermore lead to serious disappointment if the child does not fulfill its engineered role.[39]

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";[40] defend and promote rigorous, independent safety testing of enabling technologies; as well as affordable, universal access to these technologies.[28]

Social and economic inequality concerns

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, intelligence and overall independence.[41] In our world, there always have been stratification among socioeconomic classes that prevent the less wealthy from accessing the best options for goods and opportunities, and so would also restrict access to the best enhancements or prevent them from accessing them at all. The advantage gained by one person's enhancements implies a disadvantage to an weakly enhanced or unenhanced person.[42][8] Human enhancements present a great debate on the equality between the individuals throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.

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.[42] 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. 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 if there is no enhancement for human efficiency. A job candidate enhanced with a neural transplant that heightens their ability to compute and retain information would outcompete someone who is not enhanced. 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. However, since restrictions have always existed for any kind of procedure involving children, this might prevent this from affecting schools and competitive junior activities.

Unfairness in those who receive enhancements and those who do not is a cause for concern, although unfairness is inevitable in any field or situation.[43] An individual taking a math exam may have had a better teacher, or a greater access to information with a modern handheld device. There also exists the stochastic "genetic lottery" of nature. 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.[44] How easy it is for certain individuals to get a hold of such enhancements depending on their socioeconomic standing. With all technologies it is important to keep in mind the historical trends of technology that relate utility to availability.

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 the Western world put aside its "self-righteous" Euro-American ideological biases and learn from the Chinese.[45]

Effects on identity

Human enhancement technologies can impact human identity by affecting one's self-conception.[46] This is problematic because enhancement technologies threaten to alter the self fundamentally to the point where the result is a different person.[] For example, extreme changes in personality may affect the individual's relationships because others can no longer relate to the new person.[38]

Human Enhancement Rhetoric (HER)

In his essay "Mapping human enhancement rhetoric", Thayer (2014) states that the growth of human enhancement technology means a corresponding growth in the discourse of HET, so he suggests inventing a new classification called Human Enhancement Rhetoric (HER). To establish this classification, Thayer focuses on answering four existential questions: (1) what is HER?, (2) how can HER be mapped?, (3) what does this project of mapping HER accomplish?, and (4) what global issues or ethical concerns are raised, or can be further understood, by mapping HER? These foundational questions serve to introduce Thayer's newly conceived boundaries, definitions, nomenclature, and ethical arguments as he works to create a discourse that industry professionals and academics can study, navigate, and grow.[47]

Other issues

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


  1. ^ Human enhancement, IEET
  2. ^ Hughes, James (2004). "Human Enhancement on the Agenda". Retrieved .
  3. ^ Moore, P., "Enhancing Me: The Hope and the Hype of Human Enhancement"
  4. ^ Enhancement Technologies Group (1998). "Writings by group participants". Retrieved .
  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 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 .
  14. ^ Aguiar, Sebastian; Borowski, Thomas. "Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Rejuvenation Research. PMC 3746283. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  15. ^ Gohil, Kashmira J.; Patel, Jagruti A.; Gajjar, Anuradha K. "Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. PMC 3116297. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  16. ^ Smeland, Olav B.; Meisingset, Tore W.; Borges, Karin; Sonnewald, Ursula. "Chronic acetyl-l-carnitine alters brain energy metabolism and increases noradrenaline and serotonin content in healthy mice". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Neurochemistry International. PMID 22549035. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  17. ^ Owen, Gail N.; Parnell, Holly; De Bruin, Eveline A.; Rycroft, Jane A. "The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Nutritional Neuroscience. PMID 18681988. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  18. ^ Giesbrecht, T.; Rycroft, J.A.; Rowson, M.J.; De Bruin, E.A. "The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Nutritional Neuroscience. PMID 21040626. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  19. ^ Nobre, Anna C.; Rao, Anling; Owen, Gail N. "L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. PMID 18296328. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  20. ^ Bobkova, NV; Gruden, MA; Samokhin, AN; Medvinskaia, NI; Morozova-Roch, L; Uudasheva, TA; Ostrovskaia, RU; Seredinin, SB. "Noopept improves the spatial memory and stimulates prefibrillar beta-amyloid(25-35) antibody production in mice". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Eksp Klin Farmakol. PMID 16277202. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  21. ^ Radionova, K. S.; Belnik, A. P.; Ostrovskaya, R. U. "Original nootropic drug Noopept prevents memory deficit in rats with muscarinic and nicotinic receptor blockade". SpringerLink. Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. Retrieved 2017.
  22. ^ Amelin, AV; Iliukhina, AIu; Shmonin, AA. "Noopept in the treatment of mild cognitive impairment in patients with stroke". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. PMID 22500312. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  23. ^ Dolotov, O. V.; Seredenina, T. S; Levitskaya, N. G; Kamensky, A. A.; Andreeva, L. A.; Alfeeva, L. Yu.; Nagaev, I. Yu.; Zolotarev, Yu. A.; Grivennikov, I. A.; Engele, Yu.; Myasoedov, N. F. "The Heptapeptide SEMAX stimulates BDNF Expression in Different Areas of the Rat Brain in vivo". SpringerLink. Doklady Biological Sciences. Retrieved 2017.
  24. ^ Moss, Mark; Cook, J.; Wesnes, K.; Duckett, P. "Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. International Journal of Neuroscience. PMID 12690999. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  25. ^ Moss, Mark; Oliver, Lorraine. "Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. PMC 3736918. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  26. ^ Bailey, Ronald (2006). "The Right to Human Enhancement: And also uplifting animals and the rapture of the nerds". Retrieved .
  27. ^ Members of the President's Council on Bioethics (2003). Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. President's Council on Bioethics. Archived from the original on 2007-02-02.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Ford, Alyssa (May-June 2005). "Humanity: The Remix". Utne Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-12-30. Retrieved .
  30. ^ R. U. Sirius (2005). "The NeuroAge: Zack Lynch In Conversation With R.U. Sirius". Life Enhancement Products.
  31. ^ The Royal Society & The Royal Academy of Engineering (2004). "Nanoscience and nanotechnologies (Ch. 6)" (PDF). Retrieved .
  32. ^ European Parliament (2006). "Technology Assessment on Converging Technologies" (PDF). Retrieved .
  33. ^ European Parliament (2009). "Human Enhancement" (PDF). Retrieved .
  34. ^ Carrico, Dale (2007). "Modification, Consent, and Prosthetic Self-Determination". Retrieved .
  35. ^ Mooney, Pat Roy (2002). "Beyond Cloning: Making Well People "Better"". Retrieved .
  36. ^ Fukuyama, Francis (2002). Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-23643-7.
  37. ^ Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. "Human "Enhancement"". Archived from the original on 2007-02-09. Retrieved .
  38. ^ a b Michael Hauskeller, Better Humans?: Understanding the Enhancement Project, Acumen, 2013, ISBN 978-1-84465-557-1.
  39. ^ Sandel, Michael J. (2004). "The Case Against Perfection". The Atlantic. Retrieved .
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ 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 2013.
  42. ^ 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 2013.
  43. ^ Farah, Martha J. "Emerging ethical issues in neuroscience". Nature Neuroscience. 5 (11): 1123-1129. doi:10.1038/nn1102-1123.
  44. ^ 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.
  45. ^ Geoffrey Miller. "What should we be worried about?". Edge.
  46. ^ DeGrazia, David (2005). "Enhancement Technologies and Human Identity" (PDF). Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 30: 261-283. doi:10.1080/03605310590960166. Retrieved 2013.
  47. ^ Thayer, K.A. (2014). "Mapping human enhancement rhetoric." Global issues and ethical considerations in human enhancement technologies. IGI Global. pp. 30-53.

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