When Oscar Pistorius sprang in to the scene in the para-Olympics, the materials used to repair his legs went beyond simply corrective measures and enhanced his ability to sprint up to a level comparable with able bodied athletes.
In fact, the likelihood is ( well, was before be started killing people) that his adaptations could have been modified so that he could of run faster than the standard speeds professional sprinters reach.
But to a modern bio-engineer, Pistorious’s legs enhancements would look like cavemen’s tools. In the near future, we will be able to 3D print out body parts that operate in the same way as our current parts. But why would we stop there? Technologically, it would be possible to advance these body parts beyond our current capacity. Eyes with better than 20:20 vision; or, like a bird of prey, that could see beyond the light spectrum. Expect them within 10 years. Already new tracheas, kidneys, and bones are in use. Don’t expect the technology to stop advancing.
Legislation and moral debates may hold off the implementation before the technology makes it possible. Moral debates such as: should we be able to ‘make completely new people?’, ‘what should we limit our enhancements to?’, ‘should we be allowed to create entirely new species of animal?’.
These debates should be engaged with now, as once the technology is there, it will probably find a way to happen with or without the public awareness. Just think GM vegetables and cloned meat that we regularly consume without really realising. We slept walked through these debates.
The next phase of evolution is happening in the laboratory and it is incredibly exciting. I would love it if I could slow down ageing or effortlessly stay fit. But the difficult moral debate doesn’t seem to be anywhere. People think I’m making up the breakthrough technology I read about in New Scientist each week.
As so many potential benefits may arise, touching everyone we know, will the debate be swept aside for the sake of foreseen human benefit? It shouldn’t be- it is more important than ever! Who do you think will be able to afford the enhancements? Certainly not those who can’t afford clean water or enough food for their families.
If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it is that technological change is speeding up at a rapid pace. Students are now being taught to code but are they being taught to wrestle with the big moral debates they need to be having about the future of our species? I lead an Education Technology group aiming to enhance the skills of students in the tech world but rarely hear about the moralistic aide of the teaching. But it is happening, right!?