Hello, post-humans

Could nanotechnology bring humans and machines closer than ever before?

The coming together of biology, nanotechnologies, information technologies and possibly even neuroscience may blur the boundaries between human and machine. If some of the grander nano-promises come true, then nanotechnologies could help bring about a fusion between people and technology never seen before.

The machinery of the living cell is one kind of nanotechnology. Adapting it or combining it with new nano-devices could, in theory, give future humans new capabilities, such as enhanced senses or the ability to control computers connected to their nervous systems.

This is all a fair way off. Current work is mostly medical, like better artificial ear implants for the profoundly deaf.

Better by design

A key issue will be whether enhancement is simply a new twist in an old story or a new stage in evolution. From flints and fire to computers and fast food, humans have always made and remade our environment and our culture through our tools. We’re currently free to adapt ourselves through education, exercise or cosmetic surgery, for example. Does there come a point when broader social concerns require us to impose restrictions? Why? Should nano-enhancement be treated differently from other forms of human betterment?

Are we likely to widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’? Could we even be heading for separate evolution – ‘organic’ humans versus ‘enhanced’ humans?

These are difficult questions to answer. But they are worth thinking about if we wish to shape a future we want. As new nanotechnology advances the field of bionics, those that have access to the new products may be limited.

Lead image:

Shan Sheehan CC BY NC ND

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Nanoscience’ in June 2005 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Cell biology, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development