The Brave New World of Human Enhancement

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The Brave New World of Human Enhancement

As the three powerful technological forces—information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology—of the Digital Era converge, our lives and businesses are being reshaped in ways that challenge our abilities as humans to even imagine the possibilities.

One of the most intriguing outcomes of this convergence is the rise of new tools for enhancing human bodies and minds in order to make healthy people stronger, smarter, and even healthier.

Although many opportunities for enhancement exist, the three most commonly cited are:

  1. The use of synthetic blood to improve strength, speed, and stamina.
  2. The implanting of chips in the human brain to enable people to process information faster, improve concentration, and store memories indefinitely.
  3. Gene editing in babies to remove genetic defects that are linked to disabilities and diseases.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these technologies:

  • According to the BBC, in 2015, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), announced that it will launch a clinical trial of synthetic blood for transfusions by 2017.1 The Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford will administer the trial, in which up to twenty healthy volunteers will receive less than two teaspoons of blood created in a lab from stem cells, and the results will be compared to those from donated blood.  This will mark the first time humans will receive manufactured blood.  The goal is to compensate for declining donations of human blood, and to help people with diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
  • According to a report in the journal Nature, earlier this year, scientists from Ohio State University’s Center for Neuromodulation implanted a microelectrode array in the motor cortex of the brain of a quadriplegic man.2 The array includes a chip that is smaller and thinner than a dime, which is linked to ninety- six wire-shaped electrodes in the outer layers of the brain.  The computer chip relays his own brain signals into an electronic sleeve around the man’s arm, allowing him to pick up a glass of water, swipe a credit card, or play the video game Guitar Hero.  This is a dramatic advance over previous neuroprosthetics that enabled patients to move a robotic arm, because it bypasses his cervical spinal cord injury and actually allows him to use his own arm and move his own fingers.  As PBS NewsHour reported, “It’s the first time a brain-machine interface has restored muscle control to a paralyzed human being.”3  The study’s authors conclude, “These results have significant implications in advancing neuroprosthetic technology for people worldwide living with the effects of paralysis...

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