The reports regularly come in from around the world: U.S. engineers unveil a prototype bionic eye, Swedish surgeons replace a man’s cancerous trachea with a body part grown in a lab, and a British woman augments her sense of touch by implanting self-made magnetic sensors in her fingertips.
Adherents of “transhumanism”—a movement that seeks to transform Homo sapiens through tools like gene manipulation, “smart drugs” and nanomedicine—hail such developments as evidence that we are becoming the engineers of our own evolution. Enhanced humans might inject themselves with artificial, oxygen-carrying blood cells, enabling them to sprint for 15 minutes straight. They could live long enough to taste a slice of their own 250th birthday cake. Or they might abandon their bodies entirely, translating the neurons of their brains into a digital consciousness. Transhumanists say we are morally obligated to help the human race transcend its biological limits; those who disagree are sometimes called Bio-Luddites. “The human quest has always been to ward off death and do everything in our power to keep living,” says Natasha Vita-More, chairwoman of Humanity+, the world’s largest transhumanist organization, with nearly 6,000 members.