[Mohammed Afkhami | Contributing Writer]
Its modern founder boldly proclaimed that, “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself — not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity”.
Years later, Francis Fukuyama, the political scientist that envisioned human progress as plateauing, called it the most dangerous idea. The subject that is the at the epicentre of all this high minded talk is the social-scientific movement called Transhumanism. If you’ve never heard of it till now, there’s good chance you’ll be very much inundated with it later. Denoted with the symbol “h+”, Transhumanism is a movement composed of a body of people who seek to follow an outright pursuit of a posthuman , post-mortality age, instead of waiting for modern medicine to implicitly and slowly do it for them.
Every field from bionics (electronic prosthetics) to genetic therapy is being given a direction and vigour from this movement that is agitating to quickly get us to the point where for all intents and purposes we live forever.
Several international developments are making such a dream a possibility. First has been the isolation of the root causes of ageing in an average OECD country lacking the usual diseases and ailments found in the developing world. A rather rasputinesque Aubrey de Grey of the SENS research foundation has isolated the causes of ageing in the absence of disease to seven central factors, with DNA damage, being the most prominent to solve.
The Cambridge based de Grey has also co-founded the Methuselah Foundation that has a cash prize for anyone that can stretch the lifespan of a mouse to increasingly unprecedented lengths. Mice, which are a model organism whose physiology and experiment data is used to predict effects on our own bodies, have been made to live 42% longer. In terms of a human lifespan that would be equivalent to adding 33 extra years to the lifespan of an 80 year old. And that’s just active rejuvenation.
Biocybernetics, a rapidly expanding type of theoretical biology, is producing an understanding of organisms that is allowing us to integrate electronic systems into people’s bodies. As you might be aware, we already insert pacemakers into hearts to stabilise the rhythm of the beating. You may not have come across on the other hand, someone who uses an implanted chip to pass on thoughts in their brain to external machines. A new technology called the BrainGate2 system implants a 4mm wide chip into the brain that allows for motor (motion inducing) neurons to translate messages into electronic signals that allow a computer to move a piece of robotics. Cathy Hutchinson, a patient who had to live with the effects of a stroke for 15 years until 2012, was described as able to move a robotic arm to feed her a cup of coffee via this system.
Rejuvenation and body part replacement
As more and more of our bodies are becoming replaceable with mechanical parts, developments in the traditional organic part of rejuvenation and body part replacement are undergoing an exponential growth. At the Wake forest institute, lead by Dr Anthony Atala, researchers have been churning organ after organ, printed, in working condition, from a LaserJet sized printer. Whilst the bioprinted kidney that Dr Atala famously showcased at a Ted talk wasn’t at the time fully functional, now 3D bioprinting has already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues, including multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures.
In this age of constant technological growth and scientific progress, with its everyday groundbreaking developments that no longer move us, its important to recognise a picture as it comes into resolution.
The picture being painted here is this; all these small incremental biomedical progressions are slowly aggregating into the final realisation of an unprecedented extension to human longevity, possible even immortality. Yet as with all major technological developments, the debates over ethics and the social impact may just be getting started. Get ready to be expected to hold a stance.