Human Enhancement


How can we define human enhancement? We might think of it as something that gives us a comic-book superpower - extra strength, perhaps, or the ability to fly - or as a pill that will make us smarter or extend our lifespan. But if we look at how we live now, and indeed at how people throughout history have used their ingenuity to improve their lives, experience, performance and appearance, we begin to realise that we are already living enhanced lives, and have been for a long time. Some devices are so familiar that we barely think of them as enhancements at all, such as spectacles or hearing aids. Others allow us to pursue the lifestyle we want: contraceptive implants and suspend fertility, for example, while IVF techniques extend it. Technologies such as these can be initially greeted with suspicion and fear, but we adapt surprisingly well. Who could have predicted the rise of the smartphone, for example? No longer content with  just a phone in our pocket, we now carry our address book, library, map, book and photo album. It seems our memories have deferred to technology. Intuitive design has in effect turned these devices into extensions of our anatomy - how long will it be before some of this technology is integrated into it?


From ‘Superhuman’ exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, London, 2012/13

Human Enhancement

How can we define human enhancement? We might think of it as something that gives us a comic-book superpower - extra strength, perhaps, or the ability to fly - or as a pill that will make us smarter or extend our lifespan. But if we look at how we live now, and indeed at how people throughout history have used their ingenuity to improve their lives, experience, performance and appearance, we begin to realise that we are already living enhanced lives, and have been for a long time. Some devices are so familiar that we barely think of them as enhancements at all, such as spectacles or hearing aids. Others allow us to pursue the lifestyle we want: contraceptive implants and suspend fertility, for example, while IVF techniques extend it. Technologies such as these can be initially greeted with suspicion and fear, but we adapt surprisingly well. Who could have predicted the rise of the smartphone, for example? No longer content with  just a phone in our pocket, we now carry our address book, library, map, book and photo album. It seems our memories have deferred to technology. Intuitive design has in effect turned these devices into extensions of our anatomy - how long will it be before some of this technology is integrated into it?

From ‘Superhuman’ exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, London, 2012/13

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Mike Walker || Glasgow School of Art

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