This is a guest post by BDYHAX.
Human augmentation is more than RFID implants, gene therapy and mind controlled prosthetic limbs – this is what it means to be human.
You’ll hear that human augmentation is just around the corner; that soon, we’ll all be cyborgs. But I bet that you have a symbiotic relationship with your smartphone. You might be part of the 60% of us who use vision enhancement “correction” technology. You probably use or have used caffeine or alcohol to alter your mood or to give you more energy. And as we age, more and more of us will have parts replaced, stapled, strengthened, and supported by technology.
Using the current definition on Wikipedia from IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies), human augmentation or human enhancement is, “any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means. It is the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range.” Human augmentation can make you run faster or make you the top salesperson, but it can also give you more senses, make you feel at home in your body, or help you regulate your emotions.
Certainly, these technologies can be applied without consent; fears about people having chips implanted without their consent and of designer baby super soldiers are common. Bodily autonomy and informed consent are critical to exploring human augmentation ethically. So for the purpose of this article we’ll focus entirely on self-directed bodyhacking and biohacking and simplify this definition to “any technology or technique you intentionally use to modify or change your own body.”
“Any” is pretty inclusive. This includes everything from clothing meant to protect you from the elements to anything that moves your body to technologies that make your environment more comfortable. Admittedly, it is easier to think of clothing as augmentation than airplanes. Generally the closer a thing is to your body the more we consider it to be augmentation. Exoskeletons from Lockheed-Martin that let you “lift 36 lbs effortlessly”- yes! A cargo ship or your house – probably not.
There are many technologies and techniques that fall easily under these definitions, including some that humans have been doing for a long time. Herbal nootropics like tea and cocoa, prosthetics, body modification, and techniques like yoga are all means to make intentional changes to the human body. The biotechnologies we are building today are part of this natural progression of humans and technology.
Think back on the original definition of human augmentation, “any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means.” Human augmentation is the story of humanity and the creative ways that we try to adapt our bodies to our natural and social environment. Every piece of technology ever created by humans was created to fill a human need.
Interestingly, there are many pieces of technology in place today that aren’t viewed as human augmentation but fit into all of our main qualifiers today- self-directed, intentional change, and close to the body. Reproductive technologies for women such as IUDs and hormonal birth control modify a pretty major thing about your physiology. Medical devices such as pacemakers, artificial hearts, prosthetic limbs, and critical “bridging” life support technology are some of the most intimate ways we interface humans with technology. Historically, trans people have biohacked solutions to their physical appearance with every technology available. Human augmentation isn’t coming soon. It’s already here.
Learn more at Thrival’s Life.Code Summit at the “Human Augmentation” panel on Thursday 9/20 at 11am and at Human Augmentation 101 Pittsburgh at Protohaven community maker space on 9/22, or at the two-day BDYHAX conference in Austin, TX 2/23-24, 2019. Register now! You can also follow us @BDYHAX or at Facebook.com/BDYHAX.