Scenarios of Enhancements

It might soon become possible to extend our capabilities by implanting functionalities from other organisms into our own bodies. With the aid of bio hardware and software we would be able interpret, visualize, and understand inputs from previously unfelt phenomenon such as magnetic fields or sonar. Our brains are remarkably plastic, and it is not inconceivable that if you spliced mantis shrimp DNA into your own, you could learn how to perceive the world through all your new photoreceptors and be able to see polarized and hyperspectral light. Other useful animal qualities could improve our hearing, smell, balance, and coordination.

However, there are more dramatic ways of enhancing ourselves through genetic modification. On the one hand, is it plausible that the development of our society will lead to eugenics as a standard practice of giving birth? Within this context, will we try avoiding reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits? On the other hand, perhaps healthcare departments and insurance groups will be lobbying to avoid eugenics practices and instead go for post-birth treatments, to preserve their power and position in society.

A Time magazine article from July 2012 discusses recent research into people on the autism spectrum. This research discovered that some people who have been identified with exceptional levels of ability or genius have common traits with people with autism. It is a real concern that if we selectively remove the genetic propensity for autism in humans we will also unwittingly remove the tendency toward genius, as well. The correlation between specific genes and certain complex traits and characteristics, especially those that are related to the mind, is almost completely unexplored and it will be a long time before we have the correct understanding of how these traits can be amplified or reduced through genetic intervention.

In this engineered world, there is a fine line that marks the distinction between treatment and enhancements. Currently, viruses are used as vectors to treat genetic diseases such as hemophilia by delivering the correct copy of the dysfunctional gene into the cells, or even editing mutations into genomic DNA. What if we could extend our capabilities by delivering functionalities from other organisms and a way to interpret them? We are imagining the possibility to actually have the hardware and software to interpret, visualize, and understand colors that we cannot see, or even magnetic fields, such as turtles can. Will this lead to a rapid proliferation of new races or subraces within the human species? How would racism be perceived when scientifically and biologically “justified”?

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