Research Shows Most Americans Still Aren’t Ready for Their Bio-enhanced Future
If Pokémon Go shows anything, it’s that people can become scarily – even dangerously – obsessed with technology.
But despite our addiction to all things digital, it seems we still have strong reservations when it comes to combining technology with our bodies.
In a new US survey gauging attitudes to emerging biomedical technologies such as brain chip implants and gene editing, people showed more concern than excitement about the prospect of enhancing their bodies with artificial aids.
“Developments in biomedical technologies are accelerating rapidly, raising new societal debates about how we will use these technologies and what uses are appropriate,” says researcher Cary Funk from the Pew Research Centre.
“This study suggests Americans are largely cautious about using emerging technologies in ways that push human capacities beyond what’s been possible before.”
Funk and fellow researcher Brian Kennedy surveyed move than 4,700 respondents and found the majority were either “very” or “somewhat” worried about three core biomedical innovations: gene editing (68 percent worried), brain chips (69 percent), and synthetic blood (63 percent).
While these advancements might be able to help us eradicate genetic diseases, or improve our natural mental or bodily abilities, wariness generally outweighs enthusiasm.
Interestingly, one of the reasons respondents cited for their concern was fears that these kinds of bio-enhancements will create haves and have-nots in society – with 73 percent of those surveyed thinking inequality would increase if brain chips became available, as they would initially only be affordable for the wealthy.
“I just think that there’s that place where you’re going beyond healthy, you’re going to super strength or computer [chip] thinking, [then] I think that’s unnatural,” explained a 50-year-old Hispanic female participant who took part in focus groups that complemented the main survey.
“I think that being healthy, productive, good quality of life is where I would draw the line.”
Other participants feared that artificial bio-enhancements ran the risk of creating superhuman-type individuals, which could have repercussions elsewhere in society and culture.
“If it starts to sound Hitler-like, [trying to create] a perfect specimen of man and woman … then people who are not perfect might be treated badly,” said a 59-year-old white woman in Atlanta.
“I think [synthetic blood] would sort of fundamentally change who we are,”added a 35-year-old black man in Atlanta.
“You would have this culture of people just obsessed with being bigger, stronger, faster, and just outperforming everybody.”
But despite misgivings over the potential of biomedical technology, many of those surveyed seemed to feel that these kinds of changes are inevitable in the future, with 81 percent of respondents believing artificial organs will become routine in the next 50 years.
In the same timeframe, 54 percent think implanted computer chips will become routine, and 47 percent expect a future with no birth defects due to gene editing.
“There are going to be those who are for it, those who are against, those who think it benefits them [and] those who think, ‘I don’t want to be messing with this here’,” said a 52-year-old black man in Atlanta in the focus groups.
“And then you’re going to have your people in the middle… And sometimes it takes a while for things to actually hit, you know, because it takes a while for society as a whole to accept things as the world progresses.”