The Ethics of Human Enhancement

While this is surely a hot button issue in many circles, I’ve always found interest in Human Enhancement or Biotechnology, implantation of technology in the Human; also known as a cyborg.

Jack into the Matrix chummer. Source.

My fascination with the subject came apparent when I was invited to a now friend, then friend of my brothers, home for a weekend of gaming.  I had played my fair share of D&D at this point, or some variant of it with friends from different walks of life, and different areas of the country; so I figured I was ready to jump into other tabletop methods.  Plus, my older brother invited me out, and being able to spend time with him was something that I didn’t have much of when I was younger.  The game that we were to play that weekend was called Shadowrun.  I won’t go into much detail on the game, but part of it does include augmentations, or upgrades to the Human, Troll, or whatever race you choose.  You can play as a “Decker,” where you’re able to jack into the Matrix (this game had come out long before the popularized movie trilogy mind you), via a jack that was embedded in your characters head.

There were many other augmentations, be them cybernetic eyes, arms or legs that one could alter your character with, but if you went too far you lose your magic powers (if a magic user) or die, if too many were installed.  Enough about that.

Recently I was in a discussion regarding Human Implants and augmenting the Human body with technology.  It was brief, and I’m unsure as to how far it would have gone intellectually, but it was refreshing to discuss.  How far is too far for adding technology to ones body?

Kevin Warwick, who became part of my conversation talking points, is also known as Captain Cyborg, who had an aim to become “a cyborg”:

The first stage of this research, which began on 24 May 1998, involved a simple RFID transmitter being implanted beneath Warwick’s skin, and used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices based on his proximity. The main purpose of this experiment was said to be to test the limits of what the body would accept, and how easy it would be to receive a meaningful signal from the chip.

This wasn’t the end to his implants either, Mr. Warwick had a Neural Interface installed, where it would interface with his nervous system, and a robotic arm; that mimicked his own arms movements.  He was able to control the robotic arm, and even feel sensory input from it.

Rich Lee, wanted to have headphones with him at all times.  So, he had them implanted.

The VeriChip Corporation, offers implants for building security, where a couple employees had RFID chips implanted into their arms for secure access to certain rooms in the building.

The question is, how far is too far?  Currently, prosthesis legs and arms are used for amputees, to regain what is lost in accidents, or war; and they’re getting better.  With Mr. Warwick’s Neural Interface, we could see very soon prosthesis getting more intelligent, being able to fully mimic that of a human arm, hand, leg.  In fact, the “Luke Arm,” was created and was able to give feedback without surgery.  The Human Enhancement side is a worry when technology gets to the point of full replacement of what is lost, even to the point where there is a performance increase.

Artificial Muscle. Source.

Artificial Muscles have been developed…

New artificial muscles made from nanotech yarns and infused with paraffin wax can lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power during contraction than the same size natural muscle, according to scientists. The artificial muscles are yarns constructed from carbon nanotubes.

What about the Religious Impact?  Abrahamic Religions feel that adding technology to the body is a Mark of the Beast, Islamic beliefs feel that body modifications are forbidden because they change the body that was created by Allah.

While some of the modifications may be for the better, i.e. assisting an amputee through their day to day activities, as if they had their original limb; some may not be.  There are many arguments on both sides being presented, many raising ethical questions.  RFID chips can be tracked to a certain magnitude, some schools have required students to have one; while some students object to it as an invasion of privacy.  Some States (in the USA), have even banned the requirement of RFID implants from businesses.

How ethical is it to install hardware in ones’ body?  How far is too far?  I’m eager to hear your responses.

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