Artificially engendered humans have long been a science fiction staple – from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Huxley’s Brave New World and, most recently, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island – their heroes dehumanised figures depicted amid bleak, biotechnologically devastated landscapes.
But in the year of Darwin’s bicentenary, science fact presses hard on the heels of science fiction. Three decades since Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube baby’, woke to the world, breakthroughs are now trumpeted almost every month. Chinese scientists recently announced that they had cloned the first animals from skin cells. Earlier, British scientists revealed they had manufactured artificial sperm using stem cells from a fiveday- old male embryo.
Human enhancement provokes violent controversy: the American writer Francis Fukuyama branded ‘transhumanism’ (the radical enhancement of humanity by technological means) ‘the world’s most dangerous idea’. But genetic technologies are only one, if perhaps the most controversial, sector on the enhancement front.
Mood and cognitive enhancers such as Ritalin and Modafinil are now widely used. In sport, sophisticated performance enhancers consistently stay one jump ahead of the detecting authorities. At what is called ‘the mindmachine interface’ there are already treatments based on needles inserted into the brains of sufferers from Parkinson’s disease. In future we may well see genetically engineered, digital or nano-level implants. Beyond these lies the vista of life extension.
‘There is a significant chance that my own children will live beyond the age of 120’, says Julian Savulescu, Director of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. ‘Thereafter we could be looking at two- or three-fold increases in human life spans.’
… ‘Enhancers that extend the healthy human lifespan would be well worth developing’, he adds. ‘Anti-aging research, in particular, deserves a much higher priority, since age-related disease is the most common cause of death globally.’ Ultimately, he predicts ‘our risk of dying in any given year might be like that of someone in their late teens or early twenties. Life expectancy would then be around 1,000 years.’
via Woe, Superman?.
If we lived as if we were going to be around for the next 1000 years, I think we would take better care of the planet.