Viewing entries tagged
Human Enhancement

You have been upgraded

You have been upgraded

It was amazing to take part and support the realisation of Jon Spooner’s live event, ‘You Have Been Upgraded’. This was a really special experience, especially as it took place at the Science and Industry Museum. Lots of conversations about human enhancement!

GATTACA 20 years later

GATTACA 20 years later

Here's the final edit of the event, created by Luke....


Last week, I took part in a debate hosted by Luke Robert Mason of Virtual Futures, which focused on the legacy and impact of GATTACA. We covered everything from CRISPR Cas9 to film theory and the challenge of speculative ethics. 

It was fantastic to have put this together with Luke, as the film is such a remarkable examination of a potential future, where the prospect of genetic perfection is taken seriously. Having worked in bioethics for nearly 20 years now, it feels still like a really pressing subject, which we haven't quite figured out still.


Biodesign in the Antropocene

Biodesign in the Antropocene

Last week, I gave a talk for the MA Material Futures at Central St Martins, London. I gave a talk for them a few years ago and it was a real pleasure to return. Here's my manuscript from the talk.

Anti-Doping has a bigger problem than they realise

Anti-Doping has a bigger problem than they realise

This week, Gizmodo wrote a piece which really sets out why the anti-doping problem is far greater than authorities imagine and why they cannot begin to tackle the extent of it with a mediocre budget available to the World Anti-Doping Agency. The piece does not get too focused on the ethics, but the wider culture of human enhancement that surrounds sport.  Take a look here.

LIFE 2.0 Future Everything #Futr16

LIFE 2.0 Future Everything #Futr16

This week, I took part in a really excellent panel on Life - and how it is changing - as part of Future Everything. My co-presenters were Abi Glencross and David Benque Here's my manuscript...



LIFE 2.0

When would less equal more?

Andy Miah


A few years ago, Gaia theorist James Lovelock was interviewed by the Guardian about how he saw the world today, after decades of providing warnings for humanity about its failing to turn the tide on our devastating impact on the environment. Amongst other things, he concluded with one piece of advice for everyone,



“enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan”


He also claimed that

“about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100”


which is only 84 years away folks.



Unlike other species, we are incredibly inefficient when it comes to our utilization of resources and this inefficiency has grown over time, as our societies have become ever more complex.


-       We eat more than we need.

-       We exercise less than we should.

-       We waste more food than ever before – 53% of fruit and veg, for eg..

-       New materials have led to increasingly dead, toxic resources occupying our natural world, taking its toll on wildlife.


And the accumulation of these systemic imbalances means that identifying points where efficiencies could be made has also become incredibly complicated.


Consider our movement around this planet, which relies heavily on the availability of fuel for vehicles.


We could do less of this.


We could share our cars more. We could use video conferencing more. We could stop going on holiday, or at least holiday closer. We could send things via slower means and wait more patiently for them to arrive.



But instead we have the Amazon Dash button and drone delivery emerging to satisfy even greater desires for immediacy.


In any case, these are all social solutions to the problem of how to get more out of our resources, to reduce the pace at which we use them and buy ourselves more time to find alternative sources to keep this planet going – but especially to keep us going within it!



However, there are also technological solutions. Indeed, seen in this way, the behavioural fix to diminish our exploitation of natural resources by being less wasteful is just a stop-gap towards a more long term solution, and we have a few already.


-       We can produce in-vitro meat, instead of growing it through lived beings. This would reduce the carbon footprint of our food considerably.

-       We can staple our stomachs to reduce the feeling of hunger, which is said to drive us to eat more than we need – with the caveat that feelings of hunger may also have become a matter of social ritual, rather than biological need.

-       We can use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to identify and select for healthier embryos, which may allow us to create a population that is less reliant on already overburdened health care system.

-       We can modify seeds to ensure a crop yield is more able to withstand harmful climatic realities, such as harsh winds, low rainfall, and so on – themselves a product of climate change.



So, while our inefficiency is supreme among the animal kingdom, we are incredibly well endowed in our capacity to think up efficiency saving devices. Our cognitive capacity allows us to discover ways of transforming our environment to optimize efficiencies, such as by controlling water flow and generating power with hydroelectric dams, or by creating wind turbines or solar cells, which draw from renewable sources of energy.


However, the worry of those who criticise any such technological solutions is that technology has a habit of biting back. We don’t trust the technological solution.


There is a feeling of mistrust in these solutions because we believe that human habits have a tendency to continue, despite such changes. We may staple our stomachs, but we will continue to stretch them, eating more – because hunger is no longer simply a biological response, but a cultural need born out of changes to our modern life – the time we get up, the time we go to bed and what happens in between.



So, we may find more ways of generating energy from renewable resources, but our species will continue to escalate the number of things it seeks to power, more rockets to fuel, more discoveries to be made, more artifacts to consume, more devices to connect – 50bn by 2020 if the predictions about the Internet of Things are accurate.


We also worry that environmental interventions may have unforeseen consequences, which could be even more catastrophic than if we just left things alone and accept what Erik Parens describes as the ‘goodness of our fragility’. In closing his critique of pursuing Paradise – through biotechnological enhancements, he quotes writer Milan Kundera who says,


“Humankind’s longing for Paradise is humankind’s longing not to be human’


and goes on to write about the peril of this longing.


Yet, the pursuit of a posthuman form of existence seems also written into our DNA.  As a species, we seem bound to the pursuit of transcendence - physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.



To this end, finding a solution to our problem of resource limitation – how we make more out of less - relies in part on how we curtail this ambition, which is no simple task, especially when we also believe that its presence in our lives – the fact that we are ambitious, in the positive sense – seems also to be the currency that allows us to flourish as individuals, populations, or as a species.


Many of our kind aspire to live healthier, longer lives, which involve a boundless thirst for enjoyment, happiness, fulfilment, and satisfaction. We have employed medicine, science and technology to make this possible. We have used it to bring more people into the world, to make their lives less subject to suffering, to allow us to traverse the world more fully, to experience more of what it has to offer – even if we have failed to distribute these goods evenly across our populations.


Indeed, let’s be honest, it’s not working for everyone.  Far from it.



In any case, take a look at your own life and consider where you could make efficiencies. Write down 3 things that you could do that would ensure that you make a difference to this problem, bearing in mind Lovelock’s 20 year prediction. Here’s some examples.


I will reduce the amount of food waste in my home.

I will ensure I recycle more of what I use.

I will use public transport more frequently.

I will get off my bus/train one stop before the one I typically use, to walk a little more each day.



These are really simple goals and pretty easy to achieve, but if 50% of you leave today and make even 1 such change, I would be surprised.


But that’s ok, because it’s not just about you.


It’s also about the institutions around you who make it harder for you to be more efficient. And this is where your list may need to change. Instead of focusing on what you can do to change your lifestyle, you might focus on what you can do to change those institutions.

But, the last thing I want to tell you is that we should curtail our desire to transcend.



So here’s an alternative for Future Everything to consider:



Could we engineer our biology to be more environmentally friendly?


I’m not sure anyone has asked this question before and I’m not sure many environmentalists would endorse this approach at all.  The idea of tampering with nature seems fundamentally in conflict with environmental philosophy, assuming that such beliefs consider the human species to be mostly an unwelcome disruptive force on our planet, capable of introducing artificial and intractable imbalances within the ecosystem.


Nevertheless, it may be time to stop thinking about science as being in the service of ourselves and more how it can help us serve the environment better.


So many of the debates about HE have focused on functionality and the capacity of HE to improve the range of options in our lives. Its primary purpose is about our individual freedom to determine our futures and quality of life.


It is all about us.


But could this be different?

Could human enhancement environmentally friendly?




A few years ago, this document came my way via a US based professor.




I didn’t really know what to make of it, but so much made sense.

It talked of how

·      human enhancement would be a step towards realising the perfect soldier and perfect astronaut.

·      How the blurring distinction between therapy and enhancement was state sponsored to promote complicity, with support from the media

·      How bioethicists were part of the process by which complicity and experimentation could take place

·      How limitless life extension would be enabled by a ‘magic’ pill that would call for a need to recognise suicide as a legitimate means of exiting our lives


But of course, human enhancement was in the national interests in terms of security, defence, and economic prosperity.


Of course, the human genome project race was about the proprietary interests in cell lines and our growing reliance on genetically modified biological matter.


And of course human experimentation didn’t stop with Nuermberg.



I just didn’t realise how extensive the ethical recklessness was back then, nor how complicit the bioethics community were in endorsing such work. It seemed almost as if bioethics was invented in order to allow science to become more reckless.


Perfect people 2020 made me realise that we needed a new strategy for human enhancement.


But what would an enhanced human look like, where the basis for such changes is all about supporting the environment?


27 2.0


So, LIFE 2.0 approaches things a little differently


I propose a form of what may be called Human offsetting


If a carbon offset is a ‘reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere.”




a human offset is an ‘efficiency gain in consumption or generation of resource, made in order to compensate for some other resource expenditure”


The manner of this offset could vary and I don’t want to separate out a biotechnological fix from any other kind.


In fact, I think there’s a lot we can change about how we currently do things, which could quickly change the equation of who gets what and how much.


Consider organ and blood donation.  Why is there a shortage of either? There should not be, but we’ve allowed people to think of such needs among our species as acceptable to not meet. This is completely wrong and, back in 2007, the Big Donor Show in the Netherlands spoke eloquently of this social failure.


Human offsetting is the process by which we modify biology in order to provide an exponential return on our actions as depleting natural resources.


But here’s another problem, exemplified by a simple fact: The single biggest contribution you can make to reducing your use of resources is to not have children, but will you stop having children just because of this? No, you won’t!


All being well, having children is one significant aspect of what gives life value and, even the prospect that these children may have worse of lives by us all having too many of them does not dissuade us from pursuing this selfish act. And just to be clear, even if our act is born out of a desire to nurture life from a position of care or even altruism, it still remains a selfish act. It is about us and what we need.


Lovelock may provide some basis for thinking that this could be a good strategy. He recognises that there is a precedent for this, albeit simply synthesised food like quorn – hardly, hardcore human enhancement – but then it may be a starting point for a game changing intervention.


Going back to that Perfect People 2020 document – creating people who have gills and the capacity to live underwater was one proposition for figuring out how to live on this planet.


We are not quite there yet, but advances in using graphene may allow us to at least start to desalify sea water more efficiently, providing a new source of drinkable water for us.

-       Desalination technology


We constantly make discoveries that were previously thought impossible to achieve and this alone makes it hard to write off even the wackiest of ideas.


It’s also important to recognise that more radical transhumanist applications have roots in longer-term pursuits in design. We may yet use gene editing to modify our germ-line and ready us for a time and some of the ethical concerns we have about this will diminish as the need to undertake such modifications grows, as a result of other environmental factors that limit our ability to thrive.


But the bigger picture around all of this has to do with the history of innovation around any one design proposition and unravelling that to more adeautely see why technological solutions are not absent of sociology.




Let’s take one example, which is pertinent to our inquiry


Could we modify our capacity to regulate our body heat better, so that we need not rely on heating or air conditioning as much? Could we engineer ourselves to store heat, when we are warm, to later be used when we are cold?


We have tried figuring out this problem for over a century

-       1882 – water filled tubes

-       1930 - hat

-       1967 – space suit

-       1970 – cooling suit

-       2012 – cooling device dramatically affects performance capacity

-       2014 - Wristify – does away with Air Con using electrical pulses which make u feel warmer/colder

-       2016 – store solar heat in clothing

- - eg to heat an internal wire mesh within the clothes -;jsessionid=FB1102B5EBE3D32249FE440CEF1EBB65.f02t02


In fact, the technological fix that we are often so mistrustful of, is in fact a complex web of trajectories that tells us that technology is first and foremost a social solution – with every design increment, we get closer towards fixing a problem and that boot strapping happens across decades and across the globe.


So, to conclude, when we think about what it is to operate as a posthuman – to think beyond the human – we first need to think beyond our species, not beyond our species typical functioning.


Life 2.0 denotes a break not just in our evolutionary trajectory, but in our beliefs about what we think we should be doing on this planet. We are so focused on putting to work other aspects of our environment – the wind, the water, the sun – that we have omitted to consider ourselves as vehicles of resource regeneration.


This shift in how we regard what could be done, will inform more deeply our sense of what needs to be done to ensure the longer term survivability of our species and those around us whose existence enables our own.



“If we can’t reverse our catastrophic impact on the environment by being more careful, then we need to reverse engineer ourselves”


And if you want to summarise this talk in less than 140 characters, here you go


“More bees, less drone beetles!” Thx #Futr16 @andymiah”



DIY Steroid Labs

DIY Steroid Labs

A big story broke this week on Sky News, which has been investigating the rise of DIY steroid labs around the UK. It tells a story of how body building and performance/image enhancement is not just a matter for the world of elite sport to address.

My arguments focused on the cultural shift towards enhancement and the need to re-appraise the morality and law surrounding such practices. If so many people are doing it, it's hard to still claim them as morally bankrupt.

If we can just address the health risks more effectively, then we need not worry. This means a harm reduction model and supervised doping.

How to make your own superhero

How to make your own superhero


It is a rare thing for me to be invited to speak at a Science Fiction convention, but this year I was asked to present my research within the George Hay memorial lecture slot within this Easter science fiction convention. It was a real delight to be present at this meeting and I had such a great time. I hope I get asked again some time soon! My talk was titled 'How to make your own superhero: Science, Morality and the Politics of Human Enhancement,' and it was especially nice because the event took place in Glasgow.  

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Case for Posthumanity

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Case for Posthumanity


Presentation given for the 'Imagining the (Post-) Human Future: Meaning, Critique, and Consequences.

Along with the manuscript...

This paper argues on behalf of a posthuman future that is intimately tied to the use of human enhancement technology. It presents three principal justifications for enhancement, which focus on functionality, creative expression, and the ritual of re-making the self through biological modification. Collectively, these aspirations articulate the values surrounding posthuman life and the pursuit of biocultural capital. 

When Christopher told me I would have the opening slot for the conference, I thought there was some merit in trying to deliver a polemic that would set the tone for our subsequent discussions. In part, this is why I decided to consider arguing on behalf of a posthuman existence, as it seems to me to be the most crucial dimension of what we need to consider, in order for this debate to have any merit. After all, if we are not prepared to embrace a posthuman life, then we may as well go home. That’s not to say we all need to embrace own inner posthuman for the project of posthumanism to have merit. Rather, if we conclude that posthumanism is a topic of no political or social urgency, then its currency as a contemporary debate is lost. Indeed, within some applied context, this is catastrophic, as it is a way for the professions to dismiss or ignore the long term implications of their work.

I want to present the case for thinking of ourselves as already posthuman and consider that the pursuit of human enhancements are a definingfeature of that life. One of the rather awkward questions one faces upon making such a statement is ‘when exactly did we become posthuman’, either that or, scholars conclude we have always been posthuman, or – even worse – we have never been human.

Other moral philosophers critique the idea of humanness at all as a defining characteristic of our species, utilizing the concept of ‘personhood’ as a non-speciesist, richer interpretation of the sentient condition, even affording similar moral status to animals, when they exhibit such intellectual capacities. Alternatively, some scholars appeal to such ideas as ‘dignity’ or capacities to experience certain second order psychological states, such as shame or embarrassment, as indicative of our uniqueness.

Moral philosophers have each employed these ideas to argue about a number of beginning and end of life issues, such as infanticide or assisted suicide. Indeed, bioethics has broadly been a place where this debate has found considerable traction, as many authors find themselves debating the merits of life and the conditions that give it value.

You might conclude already that, then, the debate about posthumanism need not be about human enhancements at all. Indeed, the literature outlines a much more complex set of relationship and behaviors that interpret the posthuman condition as intimately tied to discussions about our place within the ecosystem, rather than our identity as technological agents. Posthumanism may also be about the way in which human communities recognize the moral status of certain kinds of lives or lifestyles. For example, I think Chris Hables Gray’s appeal to ‘Cyborg Citizenship’ is crucially about the way that societies fail to give legitimacy to certain forms of sexual identity. We live in a world where still society is reticent to acknowledge the value of certain lifestyles and so posthumanism may be seen as a rejection of certain prejudices and be a project principally about the promotion of freedom of lifestyle. Indeed, I had a conversation last week about whether the contraceptive pill was a human enhancement or not. I think it is and we can debate why later, if you like.

I anticipate that many of the papers we hear over the next two days will explain just how much more complex is our relationship with posthumanism than we first imagined. When I think of this relationship, I draw on what Jacques Ellul refers to as la technique – that complex arrangement of technics, techniques and technologies through our humanness is made and remade. In this sense, being posthuman is to operatewithinthis complexity and to navigate through it, for better or worse.

Nevertheless, there seems something crucial to me about the human enhancement debate, as a defining characteristic of posthumanism and I don’t think I’m alone in making this case. Even authors who reject posthumanism as a worthy direction for humanity, recognize that this mau be the long term goal of Western science – Steve Fuller may talk to us more about that later (but that doesn’t mean I consider Steve as someone rejects his inner posthuman. Steve’s on Twitter for goodness sake.).

Recognising the human species as a ‘work in progress’ is inextricable from this project. However, it’s crucial that we understand the many ways in which human enhancement takes place and the broad social and cultural fascinations we may have with it. In this respect, I think we can identify at least three crucial trends that explain the pursuit of HE.

First, we can talk about the functional benefit that arises from human enhancement. Good examples of this are laser eye surgery, cognitive enhancers and gene transfer.

Second, we can discuss enhancements as a form of creative expression, as a way of exploring new aesthetic experiences. For example, we might look to make up as an early form of this, then to cosmetic surgery as a more radical and permanent change.

Third, we can talk about enhancements as rituals, as ways of marking out ourselves from others or as part of a community. Scarification, tattoo, and body piercing may be like this. More recent examples may ‘bagel heads’ in Japan.

There are examples that fit across these three types in different ways. For example, the use of LSD or other lifestyle drugs like ecstasy may be ways of trying to access new kinds of physical or mental experiences that could be seen as engaging all three of these parameters. If you take ecstasy when going to a nightclub, you might be seeking to enhance your capacity to dance all night.

Of course, many of these examples seem quite close to the present day. There is nothing controversial about laser eye surgery or body piercing.

Collectively, I want to talk about these values as indicative of how people pursue the accumulation of biocultural capital throughout their lives. Drawing on Bourdieu, it is apparent that we seek to enrich our lives today by modifying ourselves. We may have done this in the past by education or leisure. Each similarly reconfigures our mental and physical capacities, hopefully improving our lives by providing greater health or making us feel more capable.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they will, but we shouldn’t be too worried this. Those who argue against human enhancement, like Michael Hauskellar, seem to require us to have certainty over whether our choices will lead to an improvement in our circumstances. I can’t guarantee that. I can’t guarantee that your being able to run faster by genetically increasing your proportion of fast twitch muscle fibre count will mean that your life will be better off over all. Similarly, I can’t guarantee that having television, motor cars, or the telephone makes the world a better place or being human any richer. But we shouldn’t place too much stock in the critique from certainty. Most of what we do in life is a risk. We exercise judgment as to whether something will improve our lives in some way, or not and we for it. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. If you have a tattoo, there’s no guarantee that you won’t regret it when you are 60 years old.

So, why do I think the pursuit of HE is crucial to the case for posthumanity? Going back to the start of my talk, I wanted us to begin this inquiry by asking into the merit of a posthuman life. If we seek to live as posthumans, what ought that entail? How will we justify employing that term, rather than simply conclude that humans have always been on this trajectory – that what defines our species is this endless pursuit of pushing back the limits of biology and nature?

We have always done that, but if you look at the industries that guard against these posthumanist aspirations, they stillendeavor to stay at the top of the slippery slope, claiming that there are such things as biostatistical norms that explain why medicine should be used only for repair or therapy. They don’t.

Furthermore , we live in a world where such things as dwarf corn exist and where 66% of all cotton is genetically modified. Next year, the first commercial space flights will take place, while the ‘bottom billion’ people are still trying to get above the poverty line.

There is no selfless justification for pursuing longer, healthier lives, while millions of people barely have the resources to promote a healthy-ish lifestyle, or any reasonable expectation of living a long life. There is credible no system of justice that can reasonably argue that a broad social system that fails to protect fundamental needs is justified in trying to raise the upper level of human functioning. Indeed, the biggest collective human enhancement would arise from engaging more people in the democratic process, or in society generally. Providing greater chances to perform as citizens in a world where less than 20% of an electoral register turn up to vote would be a major enhancement for society ,the value of which is beyond measure.

But neither should we assume that these systems of human enhancement would be jeopardized or frustrated by their biotechnological counterparts, or vice versa. We should be vigilient over how such systems are used mosrly because of their efficiency, which may lead to us medicalizing certain problems or prioritizing a quick fix, rather than the best fix.

Yet, societies are moving targets. We edge closer to 9 billion people. James Lovelock – of Gaia theory – thought the planet should be able to sustain just 1 billion. So, we can’t look at the increase in people suffering as an explanation for the world having been made worse.

Neither can we assume that enhancements would benefit only the privileged few, as is commonly assumed. Some research that indicates that the larger benefits to enhancing IQ, for instance, are for those at the lower end of the income scale. Quite simply, being smarter improves your life.

But there are no guarantees that human enhancement will bring us happier lives as individuals. Being an ‘unhappy Socrates’ may be the consequence of our pursuit of betterment.

We ought not get too carried away with the idea that human enhancement is a project that seeks to pursue perfection or control. It is more likely to bring us more opportunities to screw up our lives, than greater certainty about it being better! But, I would rather have that opportunity, than to leave things to chance.

We do have to wise up. Last week, I had a conversation with a nutritional scientist and a dedicated body builder. The body builder asked the scientist which supplements he should be using to bulk up. He went through a list of the ones he had tried and, after each one, the scientists said ‘waste of time’ or ‘does nothing at all’.

So, it’s important we are not ignorant about what actually does what it says on the tin. We need to understand the limits of science and technology and the way that enhancement technologies operate within an unregulated commercial system that and may promise things it cannot deliver, yet. Genetic tests for performance genes claim to identify whether you are more likely to be good at one kind of sport over another, but presently they have no predictive value. Laser eye surgery promises High Definition vision, but only if you are lucky. Modafinil may boost your cognitive alertness, but only in certain situations and not necessarily in situations of high demand. In this sense, it may enhance your humanness, but may not be an enhancement of the human species as a whole.

I’m conscious of having just spent 20 minutes explaining the value of HE, but the last 5 telling you that nothing actually works and it may not be worth the bother! That’s not really how it is, but my main point is that we should not conclude that you can just download a mobile app for enhancement. (Although already people with prosthetic limbs are controlling them with mobile apps.)

Rather, any form of body modification operates within a complex system of experiences thatdetermine the value we attribute to it and derive from it. Moreover, we can’t expect enhancements to be universally sought, unless they are broadly pure biological dimensions, such as the pursuit of making our gums and teeth healthier by using fluoride in our tap water. When HE is like this, then it can be justified on the basis of promoting public health – and many examples may eventually be like this. After all, the WHO talks less about health and illness as a distinguishing factor in health care rationing decisions and much more about ‘well being’. Furthermore, doctors and scientists talk now of ageing as a disease. These shifts in belief systems are intimately tied to the human enhancement project. Recognising that life cannot be just about the alleviation of suffering is a crucial part of this.

So, the language of our posthuman future is already embedded into the professions, which previously just made us well, rather than ‘better than well’ as Peter Kramer’s patient put it when describing her state of health when using Prozac. The project of modern medicine has always led us towards human enhancement because of our desire to stave off death and promote freedom throughout life. Freedom from ill health or the debilitating limits of our bodies is, therefore, the principal justification for human enhancement and the most important argument on behalf of posthumanity. The expansion of this commitment to the eradication of all sufferingis a logical step, but we ought not presume to achieve this, or that life would be better if we could remove all of it. I’m not convinced that a life without suffering would be well lived. However, I do think we can shift the kind of suffering we experience away from that associated with biological illness and disease. Unlike Martha Nussbaum, I don’t believe in the goodness of our fragility.

In due course, the twenty first century may be likened to the swinging sixties, not for its sexual liberation, but for its anthropomorphic liberation. However, it’s important to remember, that the conventional explanation for the sexual revolution misleads us. For while many have tied it to the birth of the contraceptive pill, others point out it was the discovery of penicillin bringing about greater freedom from disease that was more crucial.

For the present day, it may not be the radical transhumanist technologies that usher in a posthuman present, not the botox parties, the cosmetic surgery, or the life extension. In other words, it may not be the pursuit of immortality that allows us to live forever

Instead, it might be the least technological innovations, like DNA biobanks for stem cell harvesting, or selecting out disabilities through PGD. It might be granting certain civil rights that gives birth to a posthuman generation, a generation less worried about the ‘yuck factor’ of biotechnological change; more willing to donate their organs to those in need; more likely to give blood.

This is my kind of posthuman future and throughout all of it, there is no loss of humanity one can presume. If anything, we will become more morally conscious agents.

Thank you very much.

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Accumulation of Biocultural Capital (2013)

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Accumulation of Biocultural Capital (2013)

Miah, A. (2013) Justifying Human Enhancement: The Accumulation of Biocultural Capital, in More, M. & Vita-More, N. The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, Wiley-Blackwell. MORE INFO

Here are the editors talking about the book...

Extract of my Chapter

The argument on behalf of biocultural capital claims that the pursuit of human enhancements is consistent with other ways in which people modify their lifestyles and is analogous in principle to buying a new mobile phone, learning a language, or exercising. It is a process of acquiring ideas, goods, assets, and experiences that distinguish one person from another, either as an individual or as a member of a community. While one might – and should - scrutinize the merits of such individual choices, we should recognize the limits of this task. Furthermore, the argument for biocultural capital considers that it is unreasonable for enhancement choices to be imposed upon individuals by the state. The normative transhumanist concept of morphological freedom emphasizes this prohibition. (More, 1993; Sandberg 2001) While general consensus on enhancements might have legal force, they will not necessarily have universal persuasive value – not everybody would wish to be tall, stronger, or whatever it may be - since enhancements only confer positive value within particular cultural contexts. As such, the precise value attached to any particular enhancement cannot be assumed to be a shared, universal good, particularly where choices of enhancements involve a trade-off.

The argument from biocultural capital explains that the designation of a biological modification as a human enhancement does not correspond with some prescribed or abstract value claim. There is no necessary “good” that, in itself, can be objectively identified to justify (or reject) enhancements. For instance, if I were to enhance the efficiency of my digestive system to allow me to assimilate foods that are generally shown to be unhealthy, it is difficult to argue that this is a tangible enhancement, other than through its allowing me to satisfy the desire of always wanting to eat foods that I find tasty but which would, otherwise, be unhealthy. While such a modification would be beneficial to me, it is unlikely to withstand the scrutiny of those who have no such desire. Such a choice also faces the criticism that one’s taste cannot develop in a positive sense if one closes off the potential to find value in experiencing other tastes. So, if I were a twelve year old and really like McDonald’s food, I might enjoy enhancing my metabolism to assimilate such food, rather than to treat it like junk food. In doing so, by failing to choose alternative foods, I also restrict the possibility of developing tastes for other foods.[7] Yet, again, it seems premature to panic too much about such a prospect. Rather, it may emerge that one’s taste develops alongside such new alternatives to consumption and that moderation will thus emerge.

Importantly, and as enshrined in the idea of morphological freedom, this argument on behalf of human enhancements does not extend to the freedom to modify others – for example, through genetically engineering embryos. Rather, this argument presents an initial position as to why certain obstacles towards human enhancement may be overcome by acknowledging the limits of concerns over rationalizing medical resources and avoiding a slippery slope towards undesirable circumstances, I have endeavored to explain the value of pursuing self-regarding, biological enhancements and, as such, to suggest why such freedom of choice should not be withheld.

In conclusion, asking why we should enhance ourselves limits the discussion prematurely. It prescribes a particular kind of moral justification, which would explain a choice that makes sense only in the particular case. However, treating such actions as micro-ethical processes, contrasts with the macro-ethical task of regulating the commercial and non-medical use of such interventions. In short, via this argument, one cannot offer a good reason for why all people should enhance themselves in a specific way, since each reason would require embedding the clause within a particular context that another individual might not deem to be valuable at all. So, understanding the value of improving attention span or enhancing sexual function would require understanding the specific context that give rise to such an interest. Instead, one may give reasons for why a motorcyclist might value an enhancement to protect the durability of her head, or why a ballerina might welcome enhanced strength in specific parts of her body, or why a mathematician or a chess player should value cognitive enhancements. These are all sensible human enhancements for particular kinds of people, but are not generally good enhancements for all kinds of people.

The rise of a privately funded human enhancement market and the possibility of commodifying life are each relevant moral concerns that should concern the governance of such industries.  While a publicly-funded system for human enhancements may be preferable to a privately-funded one, areas of human desire are always likely to outweigh the limited funds available to accommodate such desires on a nationally funded system, even if one can aspire to a certain level of social care throughout a population. As such, it is sensible to presume that a transhuman future will be brought about within a commercial structure, though as argued earlier there are reasons to presume that some forms of enhancement will eventually ease the burden on a national health care system, by ensuring more people are less vulnerable to common illnesses.

Battle of Ideas

From 28-30 October, I'll be speaking at the Battle of Ideas in London. I'll take part in two sessions, both broadly focused on the ethics of biological modification. The first is on Saturday and are titled 'Designer people: is technology making us less human?' (Sun, 1230pm, Lecture Theatre 1) and 'Smart Drugs: Magic Bullet or Cheating Ourselves?' (Sun, 345pm, Lecture Theatre 1)

Here's a brief outline of the programme with other speakers:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday 12 August 2011
Media Contact: Patrick Hayes 07782 133399 / 020 7269 9222
7th Battle of Ideas Festival Programme Announced
The Institute of Ideas today unveils the 7
featuring a line-up of 350 speakers participating in 75 debates on society’s big issues and
unresolved questions (see:
The main weekend festival, held at the Royal College of Art, London on October 29-30, showcases
keynote debates entitled:
Battle against the fates; Profiting Responsibly? Business in the Big Society; Creativity and Curiosity:
do we make stuff up or find it out? Has tolerance gone too far? Loyalty in an age of whistleblowing and Wikileaks; Is individualism bad for society?
Seven strands run through the format of the festival weekend, allowing in-depth examination of a
subject. They are entitled:
Battle for the World, Battle for Morality, Food Fight, Society Wars, Battle for our Brains,
Reassessing... Politics and Sporting Contests.
In addition there are a large number of standalone discussions on subjects including:
The Tea Party – defenders of the American Dream?    Life off Earth: are the aliens out there?
Burlesque: female empowerment or posh stripping? Islamophobia: the new racism or liberal angst?
Ain’t misbehaving - do British children need the army to sort them out?   Smart drugs: magic bullet
or cheating ourselves?    Olympic expectations: can't see the games for the legacy?   Through a glass
darkly: why do atheists love the King James Bible?
Commenting on the launch of the festival programme, Claire Fox, Institute of Ideas director, said:
‘In a period in which we are seeing hugely important cultural shifts, from nihilistic rioters looting and
burning up their own communities to many longstanding institutions – including the police, media
and political parties – hollowing out and being called into question, never has the need for rational
debate been more important.’
‘The Battle of ideas festival 2011 will provide two days of the kind of high-level, thought provoking
public debate that is currently urgently needed. We aim to avoid lazy platitudes and to interrogate
what is really happening in society both in the UK and internationally. Free speech is allowed!’
Confirmed speakers at the Battle of Ideas festival 2011 include: David Aaronovitch, columnist, The Times; author, Voodoo Histories; Anne Atkins novelist, columnist
and broadcaster; regular contributor to Radio 4's Thought for the Day; Simon Baron-Cohen, director,
Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge; author, Zero Degrees of Empathy; Daniel BenAmi, finance and economics journalist; author Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress and
Cowardly Capitalism; Melvin Burgess, award winning children's author, novels include Nicholas
Dane, Junk and Kill All Enemies; John Cooper, leading criminal and human rights barrister; regular
columnist, The Times and Observer; editor, Criminal Bar Quarterly; Claire Fox, director, Institute of
Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; Frank Furedi, professor of sociology, University of Kent,
Canterbury; author, Wasted, Politics of Fear and On Tolerance: in defence of moral independence;
Clare Gerada, GP; chair, Royal College of General Practitioners; Tom Holland, award-winning
historian; author, Rubicon: the triumph and tragedy of the Roman Republic; winner, 2007 Classical
Association Prize; Simon Jenkins, columnist, Guardian; chairman, National Trust; author, A short
history of England; Irma Kurtz, writer; broadcaster; agony aunt, Cosmopolitan Magazine;
author, About Time: growing old disgracefully; Philippe Legrain, advisor to José Manuel Barroso,
President of the European Commission; author, Aftershock: reshaping the world economy after the
crisis; Kenan Malik, writer and broadcaster; presenter of Analysis, BBC Radio 4; author, The Quest
for the Moral Compass (forthcoming);  Paul Mason, broadcaster; author, Financial Meltdown and
the End of the Age of Greed; Andy Miah, director, Creative Futures Research Centre, University of
West Scotland; Tim Montgomerie, co-editor, Conservative Home; co-founder,; member, advisory board, Centre for Social Justice; Ruth Padel, poet
and writer; author Darwin - A Life in Poems; Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic
studies, University of Oxford; author,The Quest for Meaning: developing a philosophy of pluralism;
Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law, George Washington University; legal affairs editor, The New
Republic; author, The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America; Brendan
O’Neill, editor, spiked; William Saletan, journalist, Slate; author, Bearing Right: how conservatives
won the abortion war; John Sutherland, Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature,
University College London; author, The Lives of the Novelists; George Szirtes, reader in creative
writing, UEA; poet; editor; translator; author, The Burning of the Books and Other Poems; Raymond
Tallis,  author, thirty medical and non-medical books including Aping Mankind: Neuromania,
Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity; Gáspár Miklos Tamás, visiting professor, Central
European University; president, Green Left; author, Les Idoles de la Tribu; Tom Watt, actor, writer
and broadcaster: best known as Lofty from EastEnders, David Beckham’s ghostwriter and Fighting Talk’s
Champion of Champions 2011; Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics
commentator, Financial Times; author, Fixing Global Finance; Zoe Williams, columnist, The
Guardian; Cathy Young, contributing editor Reason; and many more.
Press passes for the weekend are available and a wide range of Battle of Ideas speakers are
available for comment. Contact: Patrick Hayes 07782 133399
Notes to editors:
1) The 7
Battle of Ideas festival weekend is taking place on the weekend of 29-30 October at the Royal
College of Art, London. For the full programme and list of confirmed speakers, visit: Battle Satellite events are organised with a range of national and international partners taking place
throughout October and November. Full details of the programme can be viewed online here:
3) Press passes for all events are available and a wide range of festival speakers are available for media
comment on issues being discussed at the Battle of Ideas before and during the event. Contact: 07782 133399 / 020 7269 9222

Deporte, ética y derecho

In Octubre, estare hablar sobre deporte, ética y derecho en Barcelona por el Universidad Pomeu Fabra. Es un conferencia en la escula de derecho y abajo tiene la programa. Within my talk, I will weave in themes about democracy, freedom and the good life...

Presentación: ¿Por qué es importante el deporte para la filosofía del derecho?

Prof. José Luis Pérez Triviño Prof. Titular de Filosofía del Derecho. UPF. 10-10,30 h.

Why Anti-Doping Will Not Last: Bioethics & Sport in an Era of Human Enhancement

Prof. Andy Miah Director Creative Futures Research Centre Chair of Ethics and Emerging Technologies University of the West of Scotland. 10,30-11,30 h.

Las lesiones deportivas y el Derecho Penal

Prof. José Manuel Ríos Corbacho Prof. de Derecho Penal. Universidad de Cádiz. 11,45-12,45 h.

Dopaje y paternalismo

Prof. Claudio Tamburrini Investigador del Centre for Healthcare Ethics. Facultad de Filosofía. Universidad de Estocolmo. 12,45-13,45 h.


thumbnail image by Andy Miah, Iraq 2003 protest in Barcelona

Wired Magazine

An interview with Wired about the use of functional surgery to increase the resilience of fighters.

Seeking Perfection

On Tuesday 26th, I gave an opening address to the Seeking Perfection event hosted by #msf2010 and co-funded by Wellcome and Nowgen. The evening was spent hearing from speakers about ways of altering humanity, along with a performance piece from young people, dramatizing the possible future where human enhancement is part of our culture in a more significant way. Here are some photographs from the event, along with my slides.

[slideshare id=5609909&doc=miah2010manscifest-101029104522-phpapp01 600 400]

BBC Focus

My latest press clipping is in the BBC Focus lead feature on 'Superhuman', which runs in the May edition. Check it out for some great visuals and ideas.


I'll be speaking here next week on: Mashing-Up Computing & Biology: From Digital Bodies to Enhanced Humans "This presentation discusses the emerging era of human enhancement as an interface between cultures of computing and biology. It argues how the future of humanity will depend largely on its ability to accumulate biocultural capital, while faced with the environmental imperative to ensure sustainable adaptation."