by Christian Sanjuan
Human Enhancement Technology is a subject of continuous debate, even more so in recent years, coinciding with the rise of devices such as Brain Interface Technologies. However, with the development of such technology, many have posed a question: “Will it be truly ethical and beneficial to humanity if they allow for the development of these devices?” The answer to that is a simple, resounding, yes. Just as rats have evolved in urban areas such as Manhattan, developing distinct genomic profiles within different neighborhoods, humanity must evolve to keep up with the rapid advancement of technology.
Before stating my case on why we should not only allow for the development of H.E.T (short for Human Enhancement Technology), I must define what exactly constitutes human enhancement in the first place. According to SIENNA, a European research project that involves a collaboration of experts in ethics, law, and both social/natural sciences; human enhancement is defined as any intervention that aims to improve or augment human capabilities beyond what is considered “normal” or “typical.” Despite the controversial nature behind altering human biology by use of technological means, humanity, or within a more narrow context, the United States must allow for the continued development of H.E.T. in the United States. Doing so would allow for a better understanding of what kind of impacts the implementation and or advancement of such technology could have on the U.S. and ensure that the basic understanding of this machinery is present to promote its development in a way that is both politically wise and ethically just.
With a concept that revolves around the fundamental enhancement of human physiology as we know it, one could assume that an ethical/philosophical debate would be natural to follow. However, philosophical debate on this topic is not as common as you may think. Addressing the ethical aspects of this debate would be important, according to Janet. A Kourany, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame with expertise in science and technology; scientific philosophers can potentially give a new “empirical/normative focus” to the H.E.T. debate. Furthermore, Kourany goes on to state that despite the numerous perspectives the H.E.T. debate has involved over the past decades, the field of scientific philosophy has been an important one that has been excluded. She believes that this perspective is extremely vital to the discussion because
“many have said that human enhancement is inevitable- either because it is in human nature to strive for something better or because it is the necessary outcome of current scientific development and technological progress or just plain curiosity and inventiveness,”
she introduces the point of the possibility that human enhancement is only inevitable by default because the debate has been,
“powerless to check the current momentum for enhancement, irrespective of enhancement’s value to society.”
Janet further explains how scientific philosophers will “have been deeply remiss in ignoring it,” this shows how the lack of ethics introduced into the debate has prevented it from maturing into a truly logical conversation about H.E.T. and its value to humanity as a whole. This is important as there is an apparent lack of empirical focus within the “pro-and-con enhancement argumentation.”
Philosophers, as stated by Janet, could potentially offer new recommendations. She argues that if every person in the world were enhanced, from a moral standpoint, “if they were more caring, more sensitive to other’s needs, more selfless, more generous,” then humanity would not be facing the issues that plague our world today, or at least the extent to which they affect us today would be lessened. Janet also states that the lack of debate behind H.E.T. has been unproductive due to the lack of clarity about both the nature and scope of enhancement. Suggesting that the debate instead needs to be framed on what exactly constitutes human flourishing and the role of technology in achieving it, even calling H.E.T. a form of transhumanism. For the uninitiated, transhumanism is defined as
“the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially utilizing science and technology.”
Janet also says that standing in the negation would be a form of conservatism, or:
“a stance of hesitancy and skepticism regarding radical technological advances.”
However, Allen Buchanan, professor of philosophy and law at Duke University who has published extensively on the ethical implications of H.E.T.; argues that the use of such technologies raises questions about the moral status of enhanced individuals and the nature of human flourishing. He further outlines two different types of enhancement: Therapeutic, aiming to restore normal functioning or prevent disease; and non-therapeutic, aiming to improve human capacities beyond what is necessary for normal functioning. His second argument was that the use of H.E.T. could undermine the concept of human dignity in its entirety, which he defined as “the inherent worth and value of all human beings;” particularly, if it leads to a society where enhanced individuals are seen as superior to non-enhanced individuals.
This stands in complete contrast to the beliefs of Inmaculada De Melo-Martín, a professor of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, who states that what is considered natural is often culturally and historically contingent and that there is no inherent reason as to why we shouldn’t modify our biology to improve our well-being. In short, Buchanan and others who think like him argue the potential social divisions the development H.E.T. could create and how that should be a deterrent to the development of such devices, while De Melo-Martín and Kourany would argue that H.E.T’s could lead to the flourishing of humanity and that there isn’t any truly isn’t any reason as to why humans should not pursue this technological endeavor of self-enhancement.
Not only are there ethical debates to be made about the continuous development and
advancement of H.E.T. but there is also evidence that this technology will have political implications as well.
According to Joseph DeFranco, a researcher at the National Defense University who has researched topics including the potential use of emerging technologies for malicious purposes, technologies such as neurotechnology, including brain-computer interfaces, neuropharmacology, and neuroimaging, have the potential to create new forms of neuro weapons. DeFranco argues that these technologies could be potentially used to manipulate an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, a seemingly sci-fi or movie-like interpretation of the impact of these technologies, yet nonetheless realistic.
DeFranco decides to define neuroweapons as any piece of technology or substance that is designed to affect the brain or nervous system to cause harm or exert control. This definition would include technologies such as Neuralink by Elon Musk being used for malicious purposes, however the existing legal and logical frameworks behind arguing the harmful applications of these technologies are not sufficient to address the unique challenges posed by neuro weapons, and new international agreements may be necessary. Global superpowers are not in a state to be debating the ethical and political implications behind H.E.T. and as such would need to adapt their frame of thinking to have logical discussions on them.
Furthermore, according to Pragya Jain, a publicist with a background in both philosophy and political theory, the development of technologies such as Neuralink poses significant political implications. Jain further elaborates on this point by entertaining the implications concerning the possibility of increased government surveillance and control of citizens' thoughts and actions. Jain, through the mode of a thought experiment, examines the potential outcomes of Neuralink’s technology on democratic societies and the distribution of power. She further argues that “as humans become more reliant on technology and more interconnected with each other,” it is likely that today's governments will be unable to;
“implement technologies such as Neuralink without some major breakdown along the chain of command.”
However, Jain makes the point that global governments make the point to “weed out harmful actors, or simply, expand existing platforms effects on international cooperation and openness, the existence of successful regulation on cyberspace in international law is a prime example” of how normal people’s lives will be affected without the proper guidelines and regulations necessary to protect their safety. Similarily to DeFranco, Jain also makes the point that it is necessary for governments to “have the foresight and international framework to implement regulations on brain-interface technologies correctly.”
Despite the many, many political arguments to be made against H.E.T. the problem is not the actual advancement of said technology, but rather the lack of a mature and logical framework put in place for having productive debates on the topic. Many will argue the political harms it may have on national security and whatnot, however, through the development of a more mature frame of thought on the topic and implementation of protocols and regulations for H.E.T., such negative consequences can be avoided.
In conclusion, H.E.T has risen to be a topic of interest, especially in recent years with the rapid development and advancement of such devices, as seen with Brain-Interface Technologies like Neuralink. Naturally, with a topic as controversial as H.E.T., the ethical and political implications have been heavily debated amongst experts everywhere. While philosophers and ethics experts may argue that the development of such technology may lead to a society that is divided between those who are enhanced and those who are not, proving the development of it to be unjust; others believe that H.E.T. could lead to the flourishing of humanity.
The political concerns of H.E.T. include the concern that this technology may be used for malicious purposes, such as the creation of neuro weapons; and that there could be a potential exertion of government surveillance on the citizens of the United States which may potentially infringe upon basic human rights. Therefore, the U.S. government must engage in logical discussions to develop appropriate legal and ethical frameworks to ensure that H.E.T. is developed in a way that is safe, ethical, and beneficial to humanity. The development of this technology needs to be encouraged within the United States to gain a better understanding of its impact on U.S. citizens and national security/conflict with other nations. To ensure that these technologies are used for the betterment of humanity, it is vital to encourage the research and development of these technologies, but with a focus on their ethical and political implications.
TLDR Human Enhancement Technologies (H.E.T.) has been a subject of continuous debate, especially with the rise of Brain Interface Technologies. However, the answer to whether it is ethical and beneficial to humanity is a resounding yes. H.E.T. is defined as any intervention that aims to improve or augment human capabilities beyond what is considered normal or typical. Although the idea of altering human biology with technology raises ethical concerns, the United States must continue to develop H.E.T. to gain a better understanding of its potential impacts and to promote ethical development. Philosophical debate on H.E.T. is lacking, but scientific philosophers can potentially offer new recommendations. The lack of clarity about both the nature and scope of enhancement prevents productive debate. Instead, the debate needs to focus on what constitutes human flourishing and the role of technology in achieving it.