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Mapping Wild Cards

Inspired by: workshops/meetings » Transhumanism becomes a significant force

version: 7 / updated: 2010-12-05
id: #1197 / version id: #782
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Originally submitted by: Rafael Popper
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Source of inspiration


iKnow workshop country name

United Kingdom

Workshop date

February 2010

The source of the Wild Card is

SSH experts of the iKNOW Workshop in Manchester: Julia DE CLERCK-SACHSSE (European Commission), Dalina DUMITRESCU (Institute for Business Administration in Bucharest), Gabriele GRIFFIN (University of York), Dirk JOHANN (Austrian Centre for Social Innovation), Javier MEDINA (Universidad del Valle), Konrad MICIUKIEWICZ (Planning and Landscape Newcastle University)

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iKNOW Policy Brief 002 - Transhumanism becomes a significant force document 382931 open


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Transhumanism becomes a significant force


(approx. 150 words)
Please describe the Wild Card (approx. 150 words)
The wild factor here is that commonplace assumptions about boundaries that have been drawn between humans and technology are substantially undermined. This means a process of redefining human identity, i.e. what makes us distinctively human, what we value about this, and rethinking expectations about human capabilities. The possibility of human enhancement here gives rise to large strident social movements who welcome increased efforts to augment human minds and bodies. Some relevant technologies may be cheap – “smart drugs” and the like. Some may be relatively expensive – prosthetics (and human-computer interfaces), gene therapy, etc. There may be new divides opened up, with new elites who live longer, are healthier, more intelligent and “beautiful”, and who (having selected the most promising foetuses) have their children further enhanced to ensure they have the best start in life. People who cannot afford or do not accept biological and transhuman manipulation will ‘lose out’ on jobs, partners and income. Ideologies that justify or challenge these new social gaps may take bizarre forms, since traditional Darwinist and racist arguments do not fit the new scenario. (Furthermore, transhumanists now tend to be libertarians.) Finally, there could be distinct subcultures stressing specific aspects of enhancement – cosmetic appearance, sporting prowess, intellectual abilities, even emotional features of personality. (There are historical experiences of people hoping that their child would be the “chosen one”: now they may have a chance to design such a child!).


human, enhancement, transhumanism, technology, ethics, convergence, inequality


(max. 250 characters)

Transhumanism (promotion of such humans enhancement with technology) becomes a significant force in society rather than a fringe phenomenon. The wildcard assumes that relevant technologies will be widely available and welcomed.


Closest timeframe for at least 50% likelihood
Please use one of the following options:

Type of event

Human planned (e.g. terrorist attack or funded scientific breakthrough)

Type of emergence

please select (if any) describe related trend or situation
An extreme extension of a trend/development/situation
(e.g. Increased global warming leads to a total ban on fossil fuels)
Human enhancement techniques are developing rapidly.

Type of systems affected

Human-built Systems - E.g. organisations, processes, technologies, etc.




please specify:
please select
Level 3: important for the European Union
Level 4: important for the whole world

Early indicators

(including weak signals)

There are several signals or observables warning us about the probability of occurrence of such a wild card: Increasing pressures from workplaces to work longer, faster and with more productivity. This has led to for example, growing popularity of stimulants, relaxants and lifestyle drugs. There are large markets for “energy drinks” that promise heightened performance and relaxing drinks to soothe anxiety and aid sleep. Universities are considering how to stop students using smart drugs to boost examination performance. Plastic surgery has fast become a normal everyday activity, rather than an extreme and unusual one. This indicates that we are slowly becoming accustomed to the human body being enhanced: the ideological jump towards more significant enhancements should not be too large. Microchips have been implanted into people (a commercial example of this is the nightclub in London that offers to implant an RFID chip into members’ arms to ensure they can skip the queue, and some parents have expressed the wish to have their children implanted with microchips so that parents can know where they are at all times). There is much effort to develop technologies to help people suffering from blindness, hearing loss, cognitive impairment, etc.; these may well be applied to much wider populations.

Latent phase

Obstacles for early indentification

cultural/religious filters (values, traditions, faith, spiritual beliefs)
institutional filters (rules, laws, regulations)
economic filters (business/market interests)
social filters (class, status, education level)

Manifestation phase

Type of manifestation

In a probably pervasive way (contagious or transmittable)

Aftermath phase

Important implications
Emergence of a new system (e.g. new technologies, new paradigms)
Transformation of a system (e.g. new applications, change in stakeholders relations/influence)


Potential impacts of Transhumanism becoming a significant force would be varied, but could include changes in most areas of society. The implications of extended longevity and active old age are profound and poorly understood: we might expect significant changes in values and social norms.

Key drivers or triggers

Provide up to 2 possible drivers or triggers of HIGH importance. Click on HELP to see examples:
please describe
Driver / Trigger 1
please describe
Driver / Trigger 2
Social Growing needs of a growing ageing society.
Technological/Scientific Advances in human enhancement technologies.

Potential impacts (risks & opportunities)

Timeframe options
Risks Opportunities
(within 1 year after the Wild Card manifests)
Need to negotiate new social rules and compromise.
short term
(1 to 5 years after the Wild Card manifests)
Ethical dimensions would have to be redefined and new boundaries drawn. At the workplace, demands to work longer hours (and even to undertake some enhancements) might be likely. Potential cuts in healthcare spending, for example as some sorts of disability are eliminated (though other costs might rise).
medium term
(5 to 10 years after the Wild Card manifests)
New and different social inequalities might become rigid sources of social fragmentation and conflict.

Potential stakeholders' actions

it occurs
it occurs
Policy actors (at the international, European and national levels) Policy makers should regulate, examine appropriateness and agree on common rules and standards across EU for areas such as gene therapy, embryo selection, smart drugs and microelectronic implants. The rules would need to encompass consumer protection, business liability, quality of life and human rights. Policy should aim to protect workers’ rights (e.g. to ensure that transhumans are not given preferential treatment). Education and sports organisations need to be proactive in developing policies – and to be more open-minded in their attitudes to performance enhancement. Regulation of all transhuman projects would have to be strictly adhered to and common rules agreed across the EU states Policy makers would need to respond swiftly to technological developments and to possible changes in our understanding of Human Rights. There may be a need to make sure that Transhuman Rights are respected. Policy makers should regulate the workplace in order to make sure they are still humane places to work in, e.g. trends in working hours and mental and physical effort.
Business actors (incl. SMEs) Transhumanism would present many opportunities for business ventures. Businesses would have to agree on quality control and to discourage cheap and unreliable imports (or transhuman tourism growing in the way that cosmetic and medical tourism have in recent years). IPR would need to be protected and legal liabilities would need to be clarified. Lawyers may see many opportunities here. Businesses would have to increase their concerns for social responsibility and make sure that “non-enhanced” workers are not discriminated against in the workplace. An important question would be whether (or when) businesses can insist on transhuman workers for specific jobs?
Academic/Research sector Mass media and political discourse analysis, together with more conventional social research, to assess people’s views on Transhumanist ideas and practices. Research would have to explore social and ethical implications of transhumanism, especially in terms of implications for human identity, and might extend into action research (consensus conferences, etc.). Research would also need to focus on the social control of converging technologies. Finally, it would be important to explore “vanguard groups” and practices, and identify how some activities have moved into the mainstream, with what effect. Education would have to be adjusted to teach ethics and respect for transhumans. Social and cultural dimensions would need to be explored in research. Educational research would need to be carried out to determine what effect enhancement would have on educational results and qualifications. Research would need to go back to tackling fundamental questions concerning human identity: What are the key elements of being human? What needs to be preserved, and what could be changed?

Relevance for Grand Challenges

where? please justify:
particularly relevant Europe world
Ageing and other demographic tensions
Behavioural change
Diseases, health and well-being
Ethics and abuse of S&T
Social exclusion & poverty
Social cohesion and diversity
Techno-security, hazard & risk

Relevance for thematic research areas

please justify:
particularly relevant
ICT - Information & communication technologies
Nanosciences, nanotech, materials & new prod. tech.
Social Sciences and Humanities
Science in society

Pan-European strategies potentially helping to deal with the wild card

please justify:
particularly relevant
Facilitating and promoting knowledge sharing and transfer
Fostering and facilitating coherent international cooperation in science and technology

 Features of a research-friendly ecology contributing to deal with the wild card

For further information about 'research-friendly strategies' click here

please justify:
particularly relevant
Overcoming sub-criticality and systemic failures
To be subcritical means that the effort in a particular field or subfield lacks resources, equipment or a sufficient number of researchers to achieve a desired goal

Relevance for future R&D and STI policies

Note: RTD = research and technology development; STI = science, technology and innovation
Research topic: Ethics of human technological enhancement. Human technological enhancement (HTE) is a fast moving trend and which promises much, but which has important ethical considerations that need to be assessed for the successful furthering of this endeavour. Current examples of HTE are bionic limbs used by amputees, and implantable microchips used for ID and tracking purposes and in experimental procedures to restore eyesight and hearing. Ongoing developments within the field of human enhancement also include cosmetic surgery and lifestyle drugs. Objective: Research should pinpoint and assess the strategic implications of human technological enhancement, i.e. what impact these activities will have on people’s lives (e.g. health benefits/detriments), contemporary society (e.g. new inequalities) and culture (new ideologies and attitudes to the body and mind), and business ventures (e.g. IPR). Research could further identify political and media discourses surrounding human enhancement in order to understand the development of debates around the issue. Research should take into account basic philosophical questions such as, ‘what makes us human’ and examine the changing boundaries between humanity and technology. The emergence of movements that support and oppose various forms of human enhancement is another central research theme. Expected impact: The research will a) increase awareness of ethical dimensions of human technological enhancement; b) devise strategies for appropriate policy responses across EU; c) inform common legislation and regulation across EU; d) inform business enterprise and innovation in this field; e) inform educational and health strategies on the subject of human enhancement; f) inform the general public about a spectrum of developments that are liable to profoundly shape culture and society in coming decades (even without a strong transhumanist movement). Importance for Europe: Human technological enhancement is a growing field and one that can potentially have enormous effects on contemporary society. It is vital that policy response which would aim to shape and regulate this industry is informed by research that could guide member states in forming their legislation and listening to emerging voices and opinions.