Here are five things to know about the future of being human

United Nations Venezuela 2018_

UN Photo/Meridith Kohut. Shoppers wait in line for five hours to buy a ration of bread from a small bakery in Cumaná, Venezuela.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Simone Schürle, Assistant Professor for Responsive Biomedical Systems, ETH Zürich

Let’s assume you are healthy. Would you consider an implant or drugs to boost your physical or mental performance? Questions like these become relevant as we reach a pivotal moment in medicine, when science and technology can go beyond restorative intervention, to allow us to exceed our natural human functions.

We have methods at hand for human enhancement. With advances in nanotechnology, materials, artificial intelligence and much more, new technologies are fast becoming able to raise the capacity of a healthy person beyond their normal range, or beyond any human’s normal range. This will challenge the core of what it means to be human. Our future holds great potential, as well as pitfalls that could undermine our sense of identity and the fabric of our societies.

Here are 5 crucial things to know about the future of being human:

1. Autonomy

Enhancing your abilities, such as having a knee implant so you can walk longer or neuroimplants to boost your memory, might seem liberating, as it decreases your dependency. By taking the freedom to consider and potentially undergo an enhancing procedure, we need to keep in mind the effects of peer pressure and how our decision might compromise the autonomy of others, and of society as a whole. What if certain enhancements become the “new normal” that you need to match to stay competitive?

2. Education

With an array of human enhancement options available, it will become increasingly important for consumers to be able to equip themselves in order to make informed decisions. Education is key and will help people to consider risks and potential safety concerns. Prepare yourself for critical evaluations and reflections, concerning short- and long-term risks and benefits, on an individual and societal level.

3. Equity

Your future you might be in a divided world. Scientific advances may allow humans to improve everything, from memory to appearance. However, unequal access to such advances could provoke social tension and result in unfair competition between average and enhanced individuals. As new technologies and options for enhancement are developed, we will need social systems that ensure affordable access and prevent the emergence of an enhanced vs. non-enhanced social divide.

4. Longevity

With the rise of biotechnology and an improved understanding of ageing, new methods to decelerate the decline of biological processes are being developed, resulting in longer lives. However, there is also a great risk of prolonged living with a lower quality of life, and relatively low functional capability.

5. Emotions and social interaction

Enhancements will not only result in measurable increased performance levels, such as greater memory or stronger lifting skills, they will also alter how we feel, behave and interact with each other. This will transform both human relationships and the cohesion of our societies.

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