Enhanced humans walk among us. Over the course of human history, people have sought to alter their bodies not only to restore their health, but also to augment their abilities. Some enhancements have been commonplace for centuries, like a simple cup of coffee to remain alert or eyeglasses to improve sight. More recent developments are ever more complex, from prosthetic devices to restore lost functions, like robotic limbs or cochlear implants, to the DIY biohackers movement to create cognitive and body enhancers. As we move deeper into the 21st century, human enhancement technologies are being developed at an increasingly rapid pace.
Efforts to temporarily or permanently overcome limitations of the human body and mind now include bionic and prosthetic technologies, brain-computer interfaces, neurotechnologies, and nootropics. Advances in artificial intelligence are breathtaking. Another dramatic development in the last decade is gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9, enabling us to not only manipulate human biology, but also to potentially dictate our evolutionary future.
The prospect of human enhancement elicits enthusiasm due to the vast opportunities to redesign ourselves, yet skepticism about how far the science can really take us and bioethical concerns are also prevalent. Many have expressed a need for caution due to the myriad unanswered questions and unknowns regarding how these technologies should be used, to what ends, and who should make these decisions. For example, gene editing has the capacity to cure disease, but can we draw a line between appropriate applications and misuse when it comes to complex issues such as trait selection and editing the human genome in ways that will be permanent? How will enhancements impact human identity and human relationships? Who will be able to access human enhancement technologies, and will societal inequalities be exacerbated? How do we identify and minimize the risks and weigh them against any benefits? As we navigate through new territories in self-customization, what kinds of regulations can and should be put in place?
To explore these questions, the New York Academy of Sciences, together with the Aspen Brain Institute, and The Hastings Center, will bring together scientists, ethicists, philosophers, historians, and other experts, for an evening public event. The Enhanced Human: Risks and Opportunitieswill examine existing and emerging enhancement technologies, with a special focus on gene editing and artificial intelligence, as examples of technologies with broad capabilities and ethical concerns. Panelists will provide an historical perspective, scientific background, and will delve into the ethical and social questions still to be addressed.
This event will be available via Livestream, and archived in perpetuity on the Academy’s Livestream Channel. For full details, and to view the Livestream, please follow the link below: