One need not look too deeply into the science news of the world to follow the quickening march of both genetic and man-machine-merging developments. As successful human trials become prevalent, self-enhancement by private individuals will soon follow. This self-enhancement can be neither universal nor equal and so, due to this, places the world human population on an immutable convergent path to speciation.
In the past eighteen months, we have seen announcements of successful genetic modifications in mice which enable them to learn more, and deduce more quickly, than their non-modified brethren1; new skeletal muscle grown which is stronger than natural skeletal muscle2; a pill developed which triggered genes in mice to give them nearly-immediate ultra-endurance3; and, of course, Dean Kamen’s “Luke Arm”4.
Many people have observed this trend and written extensively about what this portends for the future of the human species. What strikes me as odd, and incorrect, is that they5 describe the culmination of these changes in terms of a ‘singularity’; i would instead suggest that, more correctly, we are converging on a branch point.
Once the technology can be bought on any publicly accessible market (legal or not), governments will need to create policies which address its access. The more naïve policy would be to seek an outright banning but, as we can see from other efforts in banning products, banning ownership of a product only works when ownership can be proved6. While this stymies the cyborg hopefuls amongst us, it fails (and will continue to fail as long as citizens cannot be compelled to submit to genetic testing) in situations in which a person need only consume a pill, or take a vacation in another country where they would receive therapeutic medical treatment.
Discounting the idea of banning, we are left with two scenarios.
- Scenario A: Governments will provide free (or hugely subsidized) enhancements to their citizens. The people, in this situation, not choosing to be enhanced will be those who face moral quandaries7; due to this, the branch point will foster speciation based along ethical boundaries.
- Scenario B (more likely): Governments will not provide free enhancements to their citizens (and likely not even subsidized, for non-normalizing treatment8). There is a subset of the financially able which will still abstain based on moral qualms however it would be generally true that the branch point will instigate speciation based along financial boundaries.
Further, it appears likely that the stratification will naturally diverge greater and faster as time progresses. This seems like a safe bet since the majority of those who undergo self-enhancement will do so in order to obtain attributes which will give them greater success in life endeavours. So, in other words, a person who undergoes self-enhancement, who thereby is able to obtain greater success in terms of professional and personal accomplishment, will likely have greater capital at hand, and be able to bestow that capital for either further enhancements of themselves, or quasi-altruistic enhancements of close associates and/or family in their social network.
There can be no doubt that the day is coming for those able to afford it, whether that be in terms of just resolved ethics, or also monetary requirements; i just hope it arrives while i still have time to enjoy it.
- ‘Smart’ mice teach scientists about learning process, brain disorders [↩]
- Embryonic Stem Cells Create Healthy Muscle in Mice [↩]
- Oral pill turns slacker mice into marathonists: study [↩]
- IEEE video report [↩]
- for example, Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil [↩]
- …or when banning is universally enacted across all nations, and the product’s construction requires such complex machinations that it could not be carried out under the radar of monitoring agencies. So, practically: never [↩]
- for example, theologically based arguments [↩]
- so while it’s likely that there would be subsidized treatment for a person suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, it seems unlikely that they would subsidize muscle creating treatments in a healthy individual [↩]