A dystopian new report exploring a range of invasive human augmentation technologies, including germ line and somatic modification, and brain interfaces has been released by the German Bundeswehr and UK Ministry of Defence.
The report, Human Augmentation – the Dawn of a New Paradigm claims to offer a conceptual model for thinking about human augmentation, an overview of how the technology will develop, and looks to apply these insights not just to the defence sector, but to society as a whole.
A Dark New World
The authors of the paper trace a common thread between technologies that allow people to have enhanced capacity (e.g. binoculars for sight) to those that rectify existing deficiencies (e.g. laser eye surgery) to those that add additional capabilities that people did not have before (e.g. night vision).
The distinction between technologies that rectify deficiencies and those that add capabilities is an important one from an ethical point of view. We can appreciate this distinction with the example of the world of sport where the use of prosthetic legs by amputees in paralympic sport is widely praised as widening access, while the use of doping by athletes is widely condemned. The view that optimisation is fine, but enhancement is ethically problematic, speaks to a shared global normative hesitancy about kickstarting a biological arms race between people, rather than operating within the limits of what nature typically permits.
Imposed against your Will
Disturbingly, the authors of Human Augmentation argue that there “may be a moral obligation to augment people” (p. 13), cynically implying not only that their own immoral tinkering with nature is a moral good, but that those that oppose it, even for themselves, may be overruled by a paternalistic state or a rapacious Big Tech oligopoly.
It paints a thoroughly undemocratic picture of the future where “the future of human augmentation should not … be decided by ethicists or public opinion” (p. 13), but rather by government.
While it is likely the case that “… human augmentation threats will be forced upon us irrespective of our own normative standpoint”, the unpredictability of the development trend of the technology surely offers an opportunity for the great powers to cooperate on a treaty to outlaw this technology at the outset, rather than participate in the ‘arms race’. Given the incredible complexity of the technologies involved, concerns about criminals and lone actors, are likely overstated for the time being at least. The technological supremacy of the state in this area is such that it is almost certainly going to be states and not individuals that possess the potential to bring about this biotech dystopia.
The technology, of course, won’t work. I don’t mean by this that it won’t be shown to be technologically feasible, or that it won’t lead to victories in war, or alter human society. Rather, much like plastic surgery or LSD, the transformation that it brings about on humans will cause more harm than good to the objects of the technology to enjoy the potential for mass adoption.
The sad reality for humanity is that, rather than realising the negative potential of the technology from the start, that we will buy the utopian lies and false promises, and go through the full cycle of envisionment, experimentation, massification, corruption and collapse before we realise to be human is to recognise and work with our God-given natures, not to seek to fundamentally alter them.
David McHutchon is the Interim Leader of Restore Scotland.