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The next step in human evolution - Part I: Where is the technology?

Will the technological developments in various fields leading to our ability to empower ourselves bring us to the singular point, and what are the ethical implications of human empowerment

human empowerment. Illustration: shutterstock
human empowerment. Illustration: shutterstock

If you were given the opportunity to rebuild yourself, how would you design yourself? Maybe get rid of the gene that ran in the family and caused a lot of heart disease. Maybe add a few more inches to our height, whether we wanted to be basketball stars or not. If we had a few more IQ points we might have been accepted to our dream job. If we can be more cool-headed and not get angry so easily, stop getting into unnecessary conflicts and maybe even improve our empathic ability so that we can really be there for our loved ones. Some of the things mentioned are achievable, some are not (or not yet). For most of them, as of today, the required effort is very great and requires a great price, but this may change: instead of going to a long psychological treatment to learn to love ourselves, we can take a pill. Instead of investing long hours in hard training and dietary self-discipline, we will simply inject ourselves with genetic material that suppresses the formation of myostatin - a protein that limits muscle development - and we will quickly become muscular and fit.

Let's assume for the moment that you answered the first question in the negative. You are happy with who you are and you would not change yourself. If you knew that everyone who competes with you, business rivals, colleagues who are trying to stand out, the players on the team against you, students who like you want to be admitted to the prestigious majors, all use technologies that give them a performance advantage over you and significantly reduce your chances of living the life you want, would you accept the gap Is this part of the natural diversity of life or will you try to use these technologies in order to at least have an equal chance? Given that these technologies are legal and safe, would you use them to enhance your children's abilities?

HUMAN ENHANCEMENT is not a new thing. In all kinds of ways - intelligence, physical ability, appearance, health, even character traits - we want to be "better" and more successful, at least in the way that we or the society around us defines the ideal. Cosmetic surgery, Ritalin, steroids in sports, even makeup and clothing and more - they are all external means, some are seen as legitimate and some are not, but we use them in order to show our best in a way that will allow us to realize our ambitions. Although human empowerment is nothing new, there is quite a chance that we are within 5 to 30 years (yes, this is quite a range in terms of the life of a single person) of a significant leap in these technologies, a leap that could fundamentally change the creature called "man" and the world in which He lives.

How will human empowerment occur?

Three areas of research and development that have an impact on human empowerment can be defined today: biochemistry, genetic engineering and human-machine interface.

Let's start in biochemistry. The vision of biochemical human empowerment is depicted in the movie "Without Limits", where the hero can take a pill called NZT that actually turns him into a genius. He is able to learn at an unreasonable speed, think quickly and creatively, remember everything. Today you can find powders and pills online that claim to do this. They are called "nootropics", supplements that guarantee an improvement in concentration, creativity and more. Most of them are sold without the recognition of the establishment or compliance with licensing conditions and / or after sufficiently established clinical examination or research, and although there is no evidence of great dangers in their use, their effect is probably not great. Among the common substances there are various compounds containing stimulants such as caffeine, sedative substances such as l-theanine (both of the above are found in green tea, but in very low concentrations), as well as substances found to have a certain effect on the production of neurotransmitters such as racetam and piracetam. Very little research has been conducted on the effect of these substances, but of those that have existed, such as זה conducted among students with dyslexia, or זה who dealt with functional abilities and short-term memory of the elderly, show that substances such as piracetam have a positive effect on cognitive abilities, or at least on reducing the effect of problems that may impair these abilities. But this is far from a significant leap in human intelligence.

The big star of the "nootropics" is modafinil. Modafinil is a drug developed to treat narcolepsy and severe sleep disorders, but has become very popular among American students during exam period. They usually obtain it illegally, as modafinil is a prescription drug. The research surrounding modafinil is mainly focused on its clinical indications and less on its effect on healthy people, but a study that took place in the UK In 2012, a study on surgeons showed that taking modafinil reduced their performance after many hours without sleep in tasks that required retrieval from memory, planning, successful transfer of attention from task to task, and their decisions were less impulsive. Again, this is not an intelligence enhancer, but a performance enhancing drug. I appreciate that many would be happy to be able to maintain a high thinking ability for longer periods of time, but as mentioned this is a prescription drug that is not intended for use among healthy people.

Currently, biochemistry offers many drugs that act on the brain and have been proven to have a positive effect (for example, Prozac), but there are no official publications or based on the existence of a current research and development process that promises the potential for a drastic change in human mental abilities. In the field of physical abilities, on the other hand, the use of steroids and hormones that improve human performance apparently beyond the limits that his basic genetics allowed, is already several decades old, as we saw with East German athletes and Ben Johnson.

genetic engineering offers a tremendous human empowerment potential, far beyond the biochemical one. Today it is already possible to map the genes of embryos (not to mention live humans) and to "edit" genes, that is, to carry out genetic manipulations. In the world of plants, genetic engineering already dominates and man can invent new traits for plants and even completely new varieties. The connection between the mapping ability and the genetic editing ability creates a basic model that can be taken very far. The basic level is the possibility to make a decision about bringing a genetically mapped embryo into the world or not. Certain diseases can already be diagnosed and allow parents to decide whether to give birth to a child with a known problem in advance. But this is only the beginning. Today's genetic engineering can be compared to the computer of the 60s. The basic logic for the modus operandi already exists, and there are even a generation or two of successful developments, and the way forward is related to solving technical problems that will make gene editing easier, in addition to expanding knowledge about the relationship between genes and traits. Ordering a healthy, tall, strong baby, with the desired eye color, free of hereditary diseases, without tendencies towards addiction and/or crime, maybe even with mathematical, artistic ability and determination - this is a distant vision, but from a scientific point of view, the basic premises for its realization already exist. During the lifetime of many of us, several conditions may come together that will make it possible.

A genetic change does not have to remain at the level of children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren who have not yet been born. The "biohacker" movement, people who manipulate their bodies, sometimes in the direction of improving health or physical and mental ability and sometimes in completely delusional directions (for example, the woman This , Mon Rivas, who implanted a seismograph in herself and can sense the Earth's vibrations), is trying to show that we can change the genetics we were born with. One of today's biohacker heroes is Josiah Zeiner, a doctor of biotechnology, who injected himself with DNA synthesized using CRISPR technology designed to lead to the swelling of his muscles. CRISPR, in a very rough and general explanation, is the use of the ability of bacteria to "cut" DNA segments from the organisms they come in contact with in order to edit genetic cargo more easily. Zeiner is actually trying to imitate the "Schwarzenegger mice" experiment from 2001 that inhibited the formation of myostatin with the help of genetic material (which I mentioned at the beginning of the article). By the way, Zeiner's muscles were not particularly developed, and apparently he did not even expect this to happen and injected himself with small amounts of the substance. The move is aimed at marketing his company's products - home CRISPR kits. After the matter of self-injection of synthesized genetic materials became very popular among biohackers in recent news, Zeiner himself was alarmed and said that he had exaggerated. However, he definitely ignited a discussion and established several messages: genetic modification can also exist in a living person, the technological logic already exists and the actual technology is within reach.

In the next chapter: on the human-machine interface and human empowerment.
The third chapter will deal with the moral and social questions

The article is divided into three parts due to its length.

More of the topic in Hayadan:

One response

  1. The man of today is not the man of tomorrow
    What we do today to plants, tomorrow we will do it to ourselves
    There wasn't one or two genetic changes, there were tens of thousands, the big bang
    And evolution will mix everything up
    Humans will look like aliens with a large variety of new species

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