Human Enhancement Definition. What is the definition of human enhancement (5x): academic, simple & NBIC. What are cybernetic enhancements? What is NBIC?
In this article you can read about the best definitions of human enhancement and I will explain more about related concepts like NBIC-convergence and cybernetic enhancements.
Definition Human enhancement
Here you can find the best definitions of the term human enhancement. All the links to the articles and books are at the bottom of this article.
A 2008 report by Etag, a collaboration of a number of European research institutes, defines human enhancement as follows: ‘modification aimed at improving individual human performance and brought about by science-based or technology-based interventions in the human body.’
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has the following definition: ‘biomedical interventions that are used to improve human form or functioning beyond what is necessary to restore or sustain health.’
Scholar Thomas Douglas writes about ‘biomedical enhancements’ which resembles the concept of human enhancement [link at the bottom]. ‘The use of biomedical technologies to alter the characteristics of already healthy persons.’
Allan Buchanan describes human enhancement as follows: ‘any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means.’
Bostrom and Savalescu write in their book that ‘human enhancement aims to increase human capacities above normal levels.’
The simple definition of human enhancement is: the use of science and technology to improve your bodily functions. That is why I think about science fiction, like the game Cyberpunk 2077 (image above).
Here is a comprehensive overview of all the definitions mentioned in the previous part:
- Modification aimed at improving individual human performance and brought about by science-based or technology-based interventions in the human body (Etag, 2008);
- Biomedical interventions that are used to improve human form or functioning beyond what is necessary to restore or sustain health (Stanford, 2015);
- The use of biomedical technologies to alter the characteristics of already healthy persons (Douglas, 2008);
- Any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means (Buchanan, 2008)
- Human enhancement aims to increase human capacities above normal levels (Bostrom and Savalescu, 2009)
- The use of science and technology to improve your bodily functions (Joosten, 2019).
In the bundle ‘The ethics of human enhancement: Understanding the debate’ the scholars Chris Gyngell and Michael Selgelid wrote an article about the different approaches to define human enhancement. These are the approaches:
- Constructivist Approach: beneficial alterations that do not treat disease (disease as a state disvalued by society).
- Normal Functioning Approach: beneficial alterations that do not treat disease (disease as a negative deviation from normal functioning).
- Beyond Species Typical Approach: alterations that take people beyond species-typical value for certain traits.
- Beyond Species Maximum Approach: alterations that take people beyond species-maximum value for certain traits.
- Welfarist Conception: alterations that improve wellbeing.
- Modified Welfarist Approach: alterations that give people abnormal biological function and improve well-being.
- Functional Approach: alterations that increase some type of functioning.
In the conclusion of their article they state it is important to be clear about which type of approach you use when discussing human enhancement technologies and methods.
Anyway, no matter which definition you choose, human enhancement raises all kinds of questions. How perfect can we make ourselves? How perfect do we want to make ourselves? What is the effect on ourselves and on the surrounding society?
Human enhancement concepts
For clarification, I provide a brief description of other terms that overlap with human enhancement:
- Biohacking is the self-improvement of the human body with (experimental) technology. This includes unconventional methods such as DIY grinders that put electronics into their bodies or bio-hackers who want to genetically modify themselves [more on biohacking];
- Transhumanism is a philosophical movement that strives to break through biological boundaries, including aging [more on transhumanism];
- Human augmentation is adding or expanding functions to the human body;
I will certainly not deny that other authors and experts interpret the terms differently, but this is the distinction that I use.
I myself notice that the difference between biohacking and human enhancement is the most diffuse. The difference that I understand is that human enhancement can also be offered by a (commercial) organization, such as the brain chips from Neuralink. Biohacking has an emphatic experimental context, which can be traced back to the ideas of computer hackers and the open source movement.
The term “human enhancement” is often used in scientific literature on human enhancement, even more so than the term “biohacking”.
When I first came into contact with human enhancement, I immediately made the link with the computer game Deus Ex. In it you could buy certain modifications for your body, such as bionic eyes for night vision, an implant for more stability in your hand or mechanical legs to run faster. These examples coincide closely with my definition of both human enhancement and human augmentation.
Related to human enhancement is the concept of NBIC.
The book Managing Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno Innovations: Converging Technologies in Society [link at the bottom] was published in 2006 under the editorship of William Sims Bainbridge. As the title suggests, this book introduces the concept of NBIC convergence. By this they mean the coming together of a number of technological developments that mutually reinforce each other.
One of the objectives of NBIC is to maintain and improve human performance. The authors and researchers are thinking, among other things, of improving sensory capacity in aging, the use of implants and brain-computer interfaces.
Their defined objective is essentially human enhancement, which means that I see NBIC as a vision or method to achieve human improvement.
The acronym in ‘NBIC convergence’ stands for the convergence of developments in the neuro-, bio-, information and cognitive sciences. I first came across this term after reading a publication by the Rathenau Institute [link at the bottom]. The consequences of the convergence of these different fields are difficult to estimate, but it is exactly in the (re)combination of technology where the power lies.
Definition NBIC convergence
The NBIC convergence follows a similar pattern to previous ICT convergences:
- Robotics: combination of mechanics and electronics;
- ICT: combination of information and communication technologies;
- Internet of Things: combination of Internet and physical reality;
- NBIC: combination of information and biotechnology.
It’s usually not just one technology that brings about a major change, but a combination of several technological developments. A good example of this can be found in the section on prostheses and exoskeletons, where we saw the combination of electronics together with biotechnology and neurotechnology (the connection to the brain and/or nerve endings).
What are some examples of NBIC convergence? In his book, Michael Bess talks about a number of so-called ‘wild cards’. These are technological developments that, at first sight, are not directly applicable to humans or of which the application/implementation lies a bit further in the future:
- Nanotechnology is technology at the smallest possible scale, that of atoms and molecules. Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that in the future, we will be able to send small robots through our bloodstream, right towards an infection or a specific organ [link at the bottom]. This may seem like a very long-term idea, but researchers in Zurich demonstrated at the beginning of 2019 that they could program small elastic robots that adapt their shape to the environment they’re in [link at the bottom].
- Artificial intelligence is a driving force behind the developments described above. Take genetics: algorithms can analyze an incredible number of datasets to examine DNA for connections and correlations. One possible scenario to which I referred in the section on bio-electronics, is that in the future, we will be able to link the human brain to artificial intelligence.
- At the moment, synthetic biology is the highlight of the convergence between information and biotechnology. This entails, for instance, modifying, constructing and redesigning living matter such as cells, tissues and organisms.
I also wrote a separate article on all of the developments in this list [link at the bottom]. With regards to literature on this topic, the novel Nexus by Ramez Naam is an interesting read. In the book, a synthetic drug is used as a nanotechnology that acts on the brain and allows the protagonists to communicate with each other.
Another term that is being used in this domain are cybernetic enhancements.
A term that is often used in English as a synonym of human enhancement is “cybernetic enhancements.” Cybernetics stands for science that deals with the control of biological and mechanical systems with the help of feedback.
The term is also used to indicate the physical fusion between man and machine. The human body is enriched or replaced with electronic or mechanical components.
From that description, which is shared by Alex Pearlman, I list cybernetic improvement under human augmentation [link at the bottom].
What are possible effects of human enhancement?
Human Enhancement effects
Human Enhancement is the use of technology to make a healthy person even healthier, a fit person even fitter and a smart person even smarter. This is the definition that Thomas Douglas has given to this in his article from 2008 [link at the bottom].
The use of technology to make sick people better is socially acceptable. That is not a human improvement and is not part of human enhancement.
What benefits can it bring? In my mind map there is a categorization that I briefly describe below:
- Cognition: more intelligence;
- Physical: more strength, speed, agility, etc.
- Emotional: better recognizing and expressing emotions;
- Health: better physical condition, longer life;
- Spiritual: transcendental and spiritual improvement;
- Moral: improving character and acting ethically;
- Sensory: expansion or improvement of senses such as vision, hearing, etc.
- Hive mind: mutual connection in a larger context, such as telepathy;
In my other articles on this theme, such as transhumanism and the future of man, these categories are further elaborated [link at the bottom].
What are some (weird) examples of human enhancement?
Weird human enhancement
Most of the methods I described are about improving skills that we already possess as human beings. That’s not surprising, because that is our starting point. But perhaps in the future, humans will use some of these technologies for very different purposes. In addition to TV shows and books that explore this idea, there’s also plenty of artists and designers that are unleashing their creativity on the limits and possibilities of our future as humans.
A few examples:
Agi Haines made all kinds of adjustments to baby dolls, such as adding extra lobes to their heads that give off heat. During the Brave New World conference in 2018, I interviewed her for my YouTube channel [link at the bottom].
Martin Sallières created a futuristic design to improve the lung capacity of marathon runners. He invented an outfit with extra air sacs that are connected to the lungs [link at the bottom]. In an interview about this, he remarked: ‘I’ve copied this from birds.’
Liviu Babitz is the CEO of Cyborgs Nest. One of the projects this company is working on, is the creation of a breast implant with a compass in it. Each time the compass is facing north, the implant gives off a small vibration. During the Biohacker Summit 2017, I talked to Liviu about this.
Moon Ribas is a cyborg artist. She has a sensor that is connected to seismographs via a Bluetooth connection and her smartphone. If there’s an earthquake anywhere in the world, she feels it [link at the bottom]. Like Lucy and Liviu, I also interviewed her, together with her partner Neil Harbisson (I wrote about him in the article on bioelectronics).
I don’t know what the humans of the future will look like. Scientists, companies, artists and designers will likely develop new ideas and applications with the knowledge and insights that will be available at that time.
Therefore, all the references to fiction that I talked about myself are more a reflection of the time in which they were made, than of the future itself. The reason for that is that authors and creators have built upon what they’ve seen before in science and technology.
The real human of the future probably looks very different. Nevertheless, fiction is an excellent way to think about the possibilities and impact of human enhancement.
Do you want to know more about human enhancement?
Please contact me if you have any questions! Like if you want to invite me to give a lecture, presentation or webinar at your company, at your congress, symposium or meeting.
Or if you want to book a session with me as an expert consultant on this area.
I previously wrote these related articles about human enhancement:
- What is human enhancement?
- What are human enhancement technologies?
- What are examples of human enhancement?
- What is human genetic enhancement?
- What are human enhancement drugs?
- What is human enhancement research?
- What are arguments in the human enhancement debate?
- What are the ethics of human enhancement?
- What are the best human enhancement books?
- What are the best human enhancement movies?
These are external links that I used, subdivided by theme.
Definition and meaning section:
- Report Etag
- Definition Stanford
- Definition Thomas Douglas
- Definition Buchanan
- Book Bostrom and Savalescu
- Article smart contact lens
- Report Rathenau Institute
- Project Moon Ribas
- Website Moon Ribas
- Article nanorobots Kurzweil
- Research nanorobots
- Website Braden Allenby
How do you view the change and improvement of us as humans? Leave a comment!