Schaffhausen: The possibility of superhumans


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Genetically engineering humans to become “superhumans” could be right around the corner. 

Kristina Schaffhausen

We’ve come a long way. I think that’s safe to say, and I think every now and then we should zoom out to see just how far we’ve come. From inventions that were created accidentally to strategically calculated processes, ideas, medicines, machines and solutions, we’ve done so many things that were once considered unthinkable.

The most heartwarming (and humbling) part of it all is the fact we’re all going to die one day, but still, millions of people all around the world go to work day in and day out to better themselves and the world around them as if this will all last forever.

We’re sure one hell of a species if I do say so myself.

In fact, we’re to a point where decisions being made are having tremendous impacts on everybody. From prototypes of self-driving cars to handheld water filtration systems, our world is getting faster and smarter every year. Though many contributors go unnoticed, there are familiar faces like Elon Musk, Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who are putting enormous amounts of time and money into making our world more suitable.

Out of everything we’ve done and have the potential to do, one concept worth noting would be genetic editing and engineering. After reading an article from TIME magazine, I was offered a unique perspective on the future of humans. The idea of manipulating genes to somehow better the world around us and prevent disease almost seems too good to be true, yet doable.

The author of the article, Nate Hopper, interviewed Yuval Noah Harari who introduced his next book, Homo Deus, that discusses humankind’s future. Harari reminds us that artificial intelligence and bioengineering will allow us to control the world inside of us as well as the outside world.

“For thousands of years, we have gained the power to control the world outside us but not to control the world inside,” said Harari. “You could stop a river from flowing, but you could not stop your body from becoming old. You could kill mosquitoes, but you could not kill annoying thoughts buzzing inside your head. In the 21st century, we are going to gain the power to control the world inside us, to kill the thoughts and not just the mosquitoes. The danger is that we will misuse this power and end up with an internal ecological disaster – a complete mental breakdown.”

It seems as if we’re only years away from editing humans; however, that thought alone is terrifying as many people could exploit these new technologies to create a superhuman race – or at least that’s the fear.

There are plenty of big names out there that are skeptical or completely against such a thought. Elon Musk spoke out against the idea after Tim Urban of Wait But Why interviewed him back in 2015.

Musk mentioned, “It’s not so much a technical problem as much as it is a moral problem. You know, I call it the Hitler Problem. Hitler was all about creating the Übermensch and genetic purity and it’s like – how do we avoid the Hitler Problem? I don’t know.”

If I’m being frank, Musk has a good point – the Hitler Problem is something worth noting because there’s a black market for just about everything nowadays.

Imagine entering an era where we’d be trying to compete against our own kind because there was some ultimate, superhuman race. Better yet, imagine sitting in class trying to figure out a way to outsmart someone who was programmed to be smarter than you. Or, imagine trying to out perform someone who was programmed to be better than you at a sport, in theater, debating politically – the list goes on forever. Sure, it sounds like a nightmare, but it is a possibility and a risk some are willing to take.

Would superhumans redefine what it means to be human? Doesn’t being human take into account the fact that we all make mistakes and aren’t perfect? Don’t superhumans strive for perfection?

In the same interview, Musk also noted how humans have unavoidable and natural expiration dates that win in the end anyway. It’s impossible to curb what nature already has in store for us. So, what’s next?

Well, scientists all around the world are still combing through the specifics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had the means and resources to introduce this concept before my generation dies.

Whether or not governments impose limitations and whether or not we actually follow through with it are two completely different stories, but there are people for and against it as genetic editing is only in its primitive stages. Advocates argue that we could program disease resistant humans; however, some are against human editing altogether out of the sheer fear of superhumans.

What resonated with me after reading both Musk’s and Harari’s interviews is that we’ve come a long way since the beginning of time, so let’s not ruin that by introducing something that may be over our heads.