Human enhancement (Augment) is "any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means. It is the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range."
Human enhancement technologies (HET) are techniques that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human characteristics and capacities. The expression "human enhancement technologies" is relative to emerging technologies and converging technologies. In some circles, the expression "human enhancement" is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering, it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance.
According to the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 report "human augmentation could allow civilian and military people to work more effectively, and in environments that were previously inaccessible". It states that "future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought. Neuro-pharmaceuticals will allow people to maintain concentration for longer periods of time or enhance their learning abilities. Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations."
In terms of technological enhancements, Kevin Warwick lists the possibilities as enhanced memory, enhanced communication, enhanced senses, multi-dimensional thinking, extending the body, in built machine thinking, outsourcing memory, enhanced maths + speed of thinking + problem solving., He also states that "a person's brain and body do not have to be in the same place".
There are many substances that are purported to have promise in augmenting human cognition by various means. These substances are called nootropics and can potentially benefit individuals with cognitive decline and many different disorders, but may also be capable of yielding results in cognitively healthy persons. Some examples of these include Huperzine A, Phosphatidylserine, Bacopa monnieri, Gotu Kola, Acetyl-l-Carnitine, Uridine monophosphate, L-theanine, Rhodiola rosea, and Pycnogenol which are all forms of dietary supplement. There are also nootropic drugs such as Noopept (Omberacetam), Semax, and N-Acetyl Semax. There are also nootropics related to naturally occurring substances but that are either modified in a lab or are analogs such as Vinpocetine and Sulbutiamine. Additionally, some substances can be inhaled for a potential nootropic benefit such as Rosemary essential oil which shows potential for aiding memory and affecting mood.
While in some circles the expression "human enhancement" is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering, it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance.
Since the 1990s, several academics (such as some of the fellows of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies) have risen to become advocates of the case for human enhancement while other academics (such as the members of President Bush's Council on Bioethics) have become outspoken critics.
Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with "transhumanism", a controversial ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens to either maintain or modify their own minds and bodies; so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children.
Neuromarketing consultant Zack Lynch argues that neurotechnologies will have a more immediate effect on society than gene therapy and will face less resistance as a pathway of radical human enhancement. He also argues that the concept of "enablement" needs to be added to the debate over "therapy" versus "enhancement".
Dale Carrico wrote that "human enhancement" is a loaded term which has eugenic overtones because it may imply the improvement of human hereditary traits to attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity), and therefore can evoke negative reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the term. Furthermore, Carrico wrote that enhancements which are self-evidently good, like "fewer diseases", are more the exception than the norm and even these may involve ethical tradeoffs, as the controversy about ADHD arguably demonstrates.[clarification needed]
However, the most common criticism of human enhancement is that it is or will often be practiced with a reckless and selfish short-term perspective that is ignorant of the long-term consequences on individuals and the rest of society, such as the fear that some enhancements will create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the "haves" and "have-nots". Futurist Ray Kurzweil has shown some concern that, within the century, humans may be required to merge with this technology in order to compete in the marketplace.
Other critics of human enhancement fear that such capabilities would change, for the worse, the dynamic relations within a family. Given the choices of superior qualities, parents make their child as opposed to merely birthing it, and the newborn becomes a product of their will rather than a gift of nature to be loved unconditionally. This is problematic because it could harm the unconditional love a parent ought give their child, and it could furthermore lead to serious disappointment if the child does not fulfill its engineered role.
Accordingly, some advocates, who want to use more neutral language, and advance the public interest in so-called "human enhancement technologies", prefer the term "enablement" over "enhancement"; defend and promote rigorous, independent safety testing of enabling technologies; as well as affordable, universal access to these technologies.
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Some believe that the ability to enhance one's self would reflect the overall goal of human life: to improve fitness and survivability. They claim that it is human nature to want to better ourselves via increased life expectancy, strength, and/or intelligence, and to become less fearful and more independent. In today's world, however, there are stratification among socioeconomic classes that prevent the less wealthy from accessing these enhancements. The advantage gained by one person's enhancements implies a disadvantage to an unenhanced person. Human enhancements present a great debate on the equality between the haves and the have-nots. A modern-day example of this would be LASIK eye surgery, which only the wealthy can afford.
The enhancement of the human body could have profound changes to everyday situations. Sports, for instance, would change dramatically if enhanced people were allowed to compete; there would be a clear disadvantage for those who are not enhanced. In regards to economic programs, human enhancements would greatly increase life expectancy which would require employers to either adjust their pension programs to compensate for a longer retirement term, or delay retirement age another ten years or so. When considering birth rates into this equation, if there is no decline with increased longevity, this could put more pressure on resources like energy and food availability. A job candidate enhanced with a neural transplant that heightens their ability to compute and retain information, would outcompete someone who is not enhanced. Another scenario might be a person with a hearing or sight enhancement could intrude on privacy laws or expectations in an environment like a classroom or workplace. These enhancements could go undetected and give individuals an overall advantage.
Unfairness in those who receive enhancements and those who do not is a cause for concern, although unfairness already exists within our society without the need for human enhancement. An individual taking a math exam may have a better calculator than another, or a better suit at a job interview. There also exists the stochastic "genetic lottery" of nature. The long-term physical advantage through genetic engineering or short-term cognitive advantage of nootropics may be part of a greater issue. The real issue being that of availability. How easy it is for certain individuals to get a hold of such enhancements depending on their socioeconomic standing. With all technologies it is important to keep in mind the historical trends of technology that relate utility to availability.
Geoffrey Miller claims that 21st century Chinese eugenics may allow the Chinese to increase the IQ of each subsequent generation by five to fifteen IQ points, and after a couple generations it "would be game over for Western global competitiveness." Miller recommends that we put aside our "self-righteous" Euro-American ideological biases and learn from the Chinese.
Human enhancement technologies can impact human identity by affecting one's self-conception. This is problematic because enhancement technologies threaten to alter the self fundamentally to the point where the result is a different person. For example, extreme changes in personality may affect the individual's relationships because others can no longer relate to the new person.
In his essay "Mapping human enhancement rhetoric," Thayer (2014) states that the growth of human enhancement technology means a corresponding growth in the discourse of HET, so he suggests inventing a new classification called Human Enhancement Rhetoric (HER). To establish this classification, Thayer focuses on answering four existential questions: (1) what is HER?, (2) how can HER be mapped?, (3) what does this project of mapping HER accomplish?, and (4) what global issues or ethical concerns are raised, or can be further understood, by mapping HER? These foundational questions serve to introduce Thayer's newly conceived boundaries, definitions, nomenclature, and ethical arguments as he works to create a discourse that industry professionals and academics can study, navigate, and grow.