State-of-the-art review of human enhancement



The SIENNA team working on the ethical, legal and human rights issues of human enhancement technologies finished their state-of-the-art review of the field. The report offers overviews of the philosophical debate around the issue, of the existing and expected applications, and a socio-economic impact assessment of human enhancement technologies. SIENNA researchers also identified six subcategories of enhancement, all of which you can read about in the state-of-the-art report that is now available for download on the SIENNA website!

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To help stakeholders navigate the field and guide SIENNA’s future work, the team identified six subcategories of enhancement, compiled an overview of the existing and expected applications of human enhancement technologies and performed a socio-economic impact analysis. You can read all about them in the full report (available for download in our list of publications (Link removed) ).

In the report, the SIENNA team argues for defining human enhancement asa modification aimed at improving human performance and brought about by science-based and/or technology-based interventions in or on the human body”. They also highlight the main issues of the philosophical debate, considering what is normal versus what is better-than-normal, treatment versus enhancement, and natural versus artificial.

Six subcategories of enhancement

  • Physical enhancements (e.g. advanced prosthetics)
  • Cosmetic enhancements (e.g. plastic surgery)
  • Longevity enhancements (any intervention that extends the lifespan of an otherwise healthy individual. Such developments are being developed, e.g. anticipated age-slowing interventions)
  • Affective and emotional enhancements (e.g. potentially some forms of neurostimulation)
  • Cognitive enhancements (e.g. drugs that increase our ability to focus)
  • Moral enhancements (e.g. anaphrodisiac for correctional purposes)

Applications of human enhancement technologies

Existing and expected applications of human enhancement technologies exist in…

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • The workplace
  • Military/defence
  • Home or recreation

Impacts of human enhancement technologies

Positive impacts of human enhancement technologies…

  • Improve human capability
  • Advance human health and well-being: longer lifespans and expectancy
  • Enhance bodily integrity (stop/reduce effects of disease/disability)
  • Improve individual abilities and inventiveness
  • Mitigate social inequalities
  • Reduce unfairness and injustice

Both positive and negative impacts of human enhancement technologies…

  • Alter human capability
  • Affect human psychology
  • Increase technological reliance 
  • Change perception of 'human'/way of being
  • Change personal status and interpersonal relations
  • Change freedom of choice and cultures of disabled people
  • Transform workplaces
  • Shift towards 'enhanced' society

Negative impacts of human enhancement technologies…

  • Harm human health  (health risks, addiction to HETs, increase in hacking threats to the body)
  • Compel individuals to remove or change 'abnormal' or 'unenhanced' traits
  • Cause resentment between enhanced and unenhanced people
  • Create social inequalities (elites of enhanced, perpetuate social divisions)
  • Diminish/damage human freedom, autonomy and bodily integrity
  • Increase competition between humans
  • Disrupt society (particularly vulnerable populations)
  • Homogenise society leading to loss in diversity
  • Promote unfairness and  injustice
  • Increase surveillance (monitoring of individuals)
  • Facilitate ostracisation of unenhanced or sceptics 
  • Give pharmaceutical industries an unprecedented power over human bodies
  • Increase risks related to an increased reliance on technology generating an increased vulnerability in case of technological failure

Download the report

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