What it means to be human is changing as we advance the technology that allows us to enhance our bodies.
We can pretty much change anything we don’t like about our appearance with plastic surgery whether it be through necessity due to injury or some underlying medical condition or just out of plain vanity. Prosthetics help the disabled to live what we would consider a normal life and beyond, as we’ve seen with the Paralympics, these athletes were truly super human. In the future I don’t doubt that we’ll be able to shop around for more body parts to help us conform to society’s norms or to change what is not working properly. The term ‘off the shelf’ will take on a whole new meaning. There is a larger issue though with this which pertains to the human condition. The more we change ourselves, whether it be with surgery, bio enhancements or prosthetics are we moving away from what it is to be human or are we simply making what is already human, better.
The military actively seek programmes that enhance their personnel to make their soldiers more durable under battle conditions. In the next few generations we may see our combat soldiers do impossible things such as, eat grass, resist stress or even climb walls like a lizard. It may sound impossible now but we only have to look to nature for concept. If we could work out how, it would be a small step to incorporate that into our military. Some pilots are required to take ‘go-pills’ during long range missions so they stay alert under long periods of time. There is some interest in using pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and gene therapy to enhance a soldiers performance. Bio-mechanical enhancements are also considered such as exo-skeletons to enhance strength. Our technology is getting smaller, our modern smart phones contain more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft that landed on the Moon so it’s not hard to think that soon bio-enhancements will be small enough to be placed inside the body. It would be foolish of us to think that it will stop at this though. The need to gain an advantage on the battlefield will spur the military on to greater demands of the scientific community to produce more ideas. Military necessity sometimes dictates that ethics are overlooked due to the greater good. With that question in mind, where do we draw the line? The military already has a huge problem with returning soldiers to civilian lives, how much more of a problem will it be if these soldiers have had enhancements. Will they be able to become part of society and live a normal life with their families, will they still feel human?
Super humans have become a part of popular culture, more so recently with the glut of super hero movies over the last few years. As we go into the future we will see more advances made in this field and the question we have to ask is will super human become the new norm thereby moving from fiction into reality? or has it already happened?