The Future of Human Augmentation and Performance Enhancement
In most of our science fiction and our projections of the future, everything has changed—we have robots, flying cars, artificial intelligence, warp speed, laser swords–but we remain pretty much the same. Humans of the future are exactly the same physically and mentally as humans today.
In science fiction, this is probably necessary for dramatic purposes. You want the audience to identify with your characters, and that’s harder to do if those characters are too strange and different. When science fiction does touch on the idea of genetic or cybernetic enhancements, it usually does so as a dystopian cautionary tale. Even the Star Trek franchise, our usual go-to source for an optimistic take on the future, becomes notably technophobic when it comes to human augmentation. The idea of cybernetic enhancements, of bionic limbs and brain implants, gave the Star Trek universe its most menacing antagonist: the Borg. As for the idea of genetic enhancements, well, let’s just sum up Star Trek’s attitude this way.
Yet those enhancements are coming, and some of the technology is here or nearly here. We had better start giving serious, realistic consideration to how it can be used, how it will be used, and what we should think about it.
The concept of human augmentation, which is also called human performance enhancement or HPE, tends not to receive much attention because it is diffuse. It encompasses a range of technologies across very different disciplines. It’s helpful to gather them together under one heading and survey the different ways in which we humans might potentially alter our own nature.
There are five main areas where we are currently pursuing human augmentation.
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