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This Democs game is a chance to explore whether we should try and enhance the human body and brain, using new technologies. You learn about what sorts of enhancements might be possible, consider the ethical and social issues, and give your opinions about it. No expert knowledge is required!

Author / translator Donald Bruce

This Democs game is a chance to explore whether we should try and enhance the human body and brain, using new technologies. You learn about what sorts of enhancements might be possible, consider the ethical and social issues, and give your opinions about it. No expert knowledge is required! Human enhancement is the idea of using new technologies to enhance the human body and brain which, some claim, could make us stronger, smarter, more responsive to our environment, longer-lived, maybe even to give us new capabilities. Developments now emerging in many fields, like nanotechnologies, molecular biology, computing and brain science, might one day make such changes feasible. Although it’s still mostly in the future, it’s seen as a serious enough question for the UK and other European countries to start to ask our societies what we would think about these new ideas. IMPORTANT PRACTICAL INFORMATION! This game is slightly different from the standard Play Decide template. You go through the rounds of the game as normal : Story Cards, Information Cards and Issue Cards, and writing Cluster Cards with the opinions of your group collectively. BUT, when it comes to voting at the end, you need a special form which you download from the Project file for this game. 1. VOTING SHEET ON 8 APPLICATIONS OF HUMAN ENHANCEMENT (Word File) - You need one copy of this sheet for every player. Each player makes their votes and writes comments individually on their own sheet. Because human enhancement is not just one idea or policy, people told us it was more helpful to vote on different potential applications of the technology. We ask you to say why you voted that way, in your own words. And we also ask you whether you think each application is a purely personal matter or if society should decide about it or regulate it. There are also two other extra files which you can download : 2. INSTRUCTION BOOKLET (PDF file) - we recommend you read this because this game has some important differences from a standard Decide/Democs game 3. FEEDBACK FORM (Optional - Word File) - If you would like to, we also invite you to tell us where and when you played the game, the name of your group, age ranges, genders, and how much you knew about the issues beforehand.

Aims of the game

This Democs game is part of a European Commission research project called ETHENTECH, to ask members of the public like you what you think about human enhancement, in the UK and across the EU. Human enhancement raises many issues about what are the limits (if any) to being human; is there a difference between using tools outside the body (like a computer) and, say, implanting a chip in our brain? Or between repairing the body and enhancing it? What about risks? Who would get access to these new abilities? Is this a matter of individual choice or should society regulate it? And much more. We’re also asking ethical experts and members of religious communities. Your responses, and those of many other players across Europe, will help us produce a report to the European Commission about public and expert views on enhancement, and whether regulations might be needed. The game has been written by Donald Bruce of Edinethics Ltd, ,an Edinburgh-based consultancy company on ethics and technology, with Perry Walker, formerly of the New Economics Foundation (nef), who first conceived the idea of Democs / Decide game.

Created 16 June 2012
Last edited 20 June 2018
Topics Ethics, Science, Technology

Policy positions

Policy position 1


Story cards


Yes, I really am a neuro-surgeon. I implant electrodes into a specific area of the brain. They keep passing an electric current. This can dramatically improve Parkinson's disease symptoms, like uncontrolled tremor, once chemical therapies no longer work. But we also found that it can be used for other things. It can change mood and has cured patients with a terrible obsessive eating disorder. Today, the serious risks mean we only use it for the severest cases when all else has failed. But we're working on tiny magnetic particles which might one day do the same thing without major surgery. Now I am under pressure from a company to develop the technique so people could control their eating habits. In most cases it’s not a medical condition, people just eat too much and don’t exercise. As a doctor, should I be worried that we’d be stepping over an ethical line here?

S1. Professor Annelie Beauchamp: Brain Electrical Stimulation

I am a transhumanist. I anticipate a convergence of genetic, stem cell, brain, cybernetic and nanotechnology research which will open up new horizons for humanity. We could expand our intelligence, extend our sensory capacities, increase our endurance, and overcome ageing. These would not only address genetic diseases but also enable enhancements. In fact there’ll be no distinction in future between curing sickness and improving our capacities. The question is whether you want to get enhanced or get left behind. We should grasp our human destiny in our own hands. I have no time for religious and ethical short-sightedness, and our current fixation with regulations. It has to be safe, sure, but no one should stop me choosing. It’s my right to be enhanced if I want.

S2. Paul Challenger: Our Human Future

I teach in a secondary school. A third of the students in one of my classes are taking the drug Ritalin, to increase their concentration. It’s supposed to be to treat the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most of them don’t have the condition, but it’s a way to get the drug. More and more wealthy parents give it to their children to help them prepare for exams. They see it as no different from taking lots of strong coffee. But is there a difference? And is it giving them an unfair advantage over the other students? Say the whole class then starts taking it. Then any competitive edge would be lost, but no one would dare stop using it. If, in the end, only the drug company would benefit, what was the point?

S3. Margaret Stevens: Unintended Social Engineering?

Janine is a very good pole-vaulter. She’s in an elite national squad. She’s also bright academically and she’s at university. Her science studies mean she can’t train as hard as her main rival, and she keeps coming second. Her coach urges her to train more. “Suppose I took a drug which helps my body recover after heavy exercise,” she thinks, “so I could train harder and keep studying?” But it’s illegal. “Why?” she argues to her coach? “If it’s an unfair advantage, then so is my special pole, and all the high tech stuff which measures my body responses.” Her coach says, “It’s not just rules. Is that sort of sport you want, if you can only succeed by drugs? And sport could be the forerunner of what happens in society. Should we draw a line for the human ‘race’?” he asks, “Or is it just up to the individual?”

S4. Janine and her coach: An Athlete’s Dilemma

Twice a week Murdo drives an articulated truck across the Scottish highlands and back with supplies to the remote outer islands. In winter, it can be a dangerous journey with mist or high winds and rain or snow. But they depend on it. He reads a brochure about how doctors developed an implant in a light sensitive device in the retina of the eye with a computer chip to connect to the brain, which helped some blind people partially recover their sight. But a company has taken the idea and made the device sensitive outside the normal range of vision, and is offering it to enable normal sighted people see infrared. It would make driving at night much safer, the brochure claims. ‘Sounds great!’ he says to his mates. They aren’t so sure. ‘What if the implant goes wrong or wears out?’ says one, ‘... then what?’ ‘And, knowing you, Murdo,’ another quips, ‘rather than driving more safely, wouldn’t you just use it to drive faster instead, with the same risk as now?’ What do you think?

S5. Murdo the Driver: Infrared Vision : Enhancement ... or not?

I am managing director of InsulinNano plc, which makes tiny needles for implanting in the skin of diabetics. Using nanotechnology we’ve given each needle a special coating which enables it to monitor the blood sugar levels, and it sends a signal to a tiny computer chip which controls a nano-sized pump. The pump delivers the right amount of insulin into the blood automatically. It was set up with Government venture capital to help nano-medical companies get products to market. Once proven, there’s a big demand. But the clinical safety trials are delayed. Funds are running very low. The military are interested in developing our needles to inject soldiers on the battlefield with drugs that would enable them do without sleep for long periods. There’s no legislation about this ‘dual use’, so should I seize this lifeline so we can keep our medical goal on track, or not?

S6. Dr John Bold: For Medical or Military?


B1 Improving human performance

There is immense scope for technology to improve how the human body performs and functions.

B2 Changing our bodies inside?

We have always developed external tools which enable our bodies to do things we could not naturally do. If we could develop 'internal' tools to do the same thing, what's wrong with that?

B3 What would you like to enhance if you could?

If it was possible to use pills, implanted chips, electrodes etc., would you improve: appearance, physical strength, need for sleep, memory, concentration, facial recognition, mood? Or something else?

B4 Life as a gift

We should see human life as a gift, not something we should tamper with, in order to try and make our own improvements.

B5 Missing the point?

Our deepest human problems are moral, spiritual and relational, not our bodily limitations. They lie beyond physical enhancements to answer.

B6 Altering nature and altering ourselves?

It's one thing to use technologies to manipulate our environment, but we should not try to manipulate ourselves.

B7 What is a human being?

Are we a bag of genes, a conscious mind in a body, the image of God, etc.? Are we material or spiritual, separate individuals or dependent on relationships?

B8 Diminishing our humanity?

Are there some basic things about being human, which would diminish our humanity if we changed them.

B9 Keeping within our biological limits, or not?

The human body works within physical limits like size - we can't fly or digest grass. Should we respect those limits or use new technologies to try and go far beyond them?

B10 Radical or more limited enhancement?

I don't want to make radical changes, to become like some superhuman, but I wouldn't object to making limited enhancements of the human body. But is that just the start of a slippery slope?

B11 Everybody wins

Enhancement is like most new technologies; it will create new winners and losers. As they become more widely adopted, costs come down. Most people should be better off in the end.

B12 Make poverty history?

If enhancements would give competitive or commercial advantages, should the priority in research be on applications to help the poor and disadvantaged? Is this possible?

B13 Overcoming discrimination

A civilised society should be able to prevent enhancement leading to discrimination, just as it seeks to do in other areas.

B14 Have's and Have-not's

Human enhancement would always be socially divisive. To allow a privileged few to 'hard-wire' permanent physical or mental advantages into their bodies would cause even more division and injustice in our world.

B15 Enhancements for only some?

If enhancements really were so good, it would be unjust if they were only available if you could pay, with the rest left behind in the new human race.

B16 Enhancement and Eugenics?

Some say it is a short step from human enhancement to social engineering or eugenic practices, for example to offer radical life extension only to those deemed to be functionally ‘fit'.

B17 Opportunity Cost?

Faced with poverty, hunger, disease, and climate change, would our research effort and resources be better spent on other goals than trying to enhance ourselves?

B18 Peer pressure and values

Because of peer pressure or the fear of falling behind, some people might feel forced into adopting an enhancement against their personal values or better judgement.

B19 Dual Use

Scientific breakthroughs in medicine may also have military applications used for enhancements. Should this 'dual use' be restricted, or should that choice left to the military?

B20 Should society decide?

Are the implications of enhancement too serious to treat just as matters of personal preference? Or has society no right to prevent an individual to flourish by making enhancements?

B21 Getting locked in to enhancement

The relative benefit of a competitive performance enhancement would be lost if everyone adopted it. No one would dare stop using it, but no one would benefit any more. Everyone becomes locked in to a now pointless technology.

B22 We got to the moon and back!

Enhancement builds on the scientific skills we have developed over generations. Of course we can't predict all the outcomes, but if we never try we'll never improve ourselves.

B23 Risks can be Handled

Just as invasive medical procedures are done under careful regulation to avoid causing unnecessary harm, we will be able to handle any risks of human enhancement.

B24 Fooling ourselves?

If we cannot make household appliances that don't break down, and if we mismanage so many complex projects, are we fooling ourselves to think we can redesign ourselves?

B25 Can we keep in balance?

Some sports enhancements have had tragic results, e.g. among racing cyclists. Can we enhance one part of our body, without upsetting its overall balance?

B26 Uneven risk balance

There are serious risks in many aspects of intervention in the human body, for which enhancement has no balancing good like a hope of treating terminal illness.

B27 Not so fast!

Commercial, medical or military pressures can sometimes drive the application of science faster than we understand it. We can't afford this to happen with human enhancement.

B28 Would it be better?

Many so called enhancements might not turn out to have made things better - e.g. radically improving our memory : there are many things we're glad to forget.

B29 Do we have wisdom enough to alter ourselves?

We have greatly altered many ecosystems and other species, and too often we've done unintended harm. Should we then alter ourselves?

B30 Brain/computer links and freedom?

Links between our brains and computers might give me better performance. But would I lose some degree of control and no longer have full freedom of thought?

B31 Why seek to be enhanced?

Practical: to overcome one’s limitations : not getting so tired, thinking quicker; Competitive: beating one’s rival at last; Aesthetic: doing a job better, a more skilled musician; Altruistic: helping someone else better; for Fun.

B32 Altruistic enhancements?

Would the most satisfying enhancement be, say, to create a finer work of art or craft, just for the sake of it, or to help someone else - in other words, something which is not just for my sake?

B33 Enhancement - the highest aspiration?

The prospect of transcending our human limits is the greatest goal we can aspire to. Now we're getting the tools to achieve it, we should use them.

B34 Well-being

Some people say that instead of 'health' we could use ‘well-being’ as a yardstick to assess enhancements. But is it possible to agree on what would make people’s lives go best?

B35 Is it really winning?

Some people say that instead of 'health' we could use ‘well-being’ as a yardstick to assess enhancements. But is it possible to agree on what would make people’s lives go best?

B36 Would we be 'better' humans?

Suppose we could become stronger, quicker thinking, more memory, longer lived, or even had entirely new human capacities, would it actually makes us better as human beings, taking our whole humanity into account?

B37 Becoming less human?

If I started using an enhancement like a drug so that I could manage with less sleep, would I become more dependent on technology, but less free to be human?

B38 A treadmill of dissatisfaction?

If I want to be enhanced because I want to attain more, would I ever be satisfied, compared with being more enhanced still? Is pursuing the idea of technological enhancement chasing a really unattainable goal?

B39 Making the most of ourselves?

Is our success as humans more about making the most of what we are, compared with seeking always to be changing it into something else?

B40 Am I'm really enhanced?

Suppose I decided to have some claimed enhancement done to myself, how would I know if it had truly enhanced me? And would my friends and family necessarily agree it was an improvement?

B41 How would enhancements be used in practice?

If an infrared vision chip was available, that was intended to help me drive more safely at night, would I just use it to drive faster, instead of safer?

B42 Parental choice

We decide all kinds of things in advance for our children. Would they blame us if we did not enhance them, given we had the option? Or blame us if we did?

B43 Is technical efficiency always a good thing?

Technology can reduce drudgery and increase efficiency. But do we use well the space that we gain? And can we lose important human or social 'goods' by pursuing mere technical efficiency?

B44 Should we enhance trust using a special drug?

Researchers claims that giving rats the chemical oxytocin increases their trust of other rats. Should we try this on humans? But is it real trust, if it's induced by chemicals? Is it too open to manipulation?

B45 Enhancement as a condition of employment

If work performance could be enhanced, should we allow such enhancements to be used in employment: as a condition of getting a job, winning promotion, or keeping your job in hard times?

A1. From changing nature to changing the body

Since time immemorial, human beings have been altering the world around us, often radically. Advances in many fields of science could eventually offer humans the possibility to make radical changes in the human body

A2. What is human enhancement?

By human enhancement, we mean ways to make functional changes to human characteristics, abilities, emotions and capacities, beyond what we regard today as normal

A3. Medical techniques used for enhancement

Sophisticated scientific tools developed for medicine could, some say, also be used to enhance ‘normal’ human performance and capacities, beyond medical goals

A4. Surely this isn't new?

In one sense, yes, some people already use cosmetic surgery or 'recreational' drugs? And what about coffee? But the sort of changes we're discussing could be much more far reaching.

A5. Old and new enhancement

In one sense, we have always been enhancing the human condition through agriculture, nutrition, energy, engineering, mobility, education and so on. But the new idea is to enhance our bodies themselves

A6. Transhumanism

A movement has emerged, known as transhumanism, which believes that human enhancements are not only desirable, but essential to achieve a human future beyond our current biological limitations

A7. Enhancements when ...

Most of what are discussed as potential enhancements are ideas whose realisation is in the future, some relatively close, but mostly far off, and some probably never.

A8. Science answerable to Society

With basic scientific discoveries, borderlines are often fuzzy. A breakthrough can be used in many ways. EC reports stress the need to submit enhancement research to wider European social scrutiny.

A9. UK Research Study

The UK learned societies (for medicine, science, engineering and humanities) are making a joint study of human enhancement from 2010. Public views will be welcome

A10. Growth hormone - medicine or enhancement?

Many would say that giving growth hormone to help unusually short children reach a more normal height is medical, but to enable a child of normal height to grow significantly higher would be enhancement

A11. Drugs for Sports performance

Chemical enhancements are used controversially to enhance performance in some sports, for example, erythropoietin to increase red blood cell levels and anabolic steroids for muscles

A12. Chemical Enhancements

Chemicals can alter cognitive performance to some extent, but feasibility, efficacy, addiction, side-effects or cultural values have limited their widespread use.

A13. Drugs for Energy?

Selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, e.g. Prozac, may have less adverse effects as anti-depressants. Some claim they could make healthy people more energized.

A14. Doing without sleep

Modafinil has been used to enable people, for example soldiers in active service, to do without sleep for several days without suffering sleep deficit

A15 Brain electrical stimulation

Electrical stimulation of the brain is used to treat Parkinson's diseases symptoms. Some speculate that it could also be used to choose our mood or to control over-eating, if a way could be found without implanting electrodes.

A16 Linking Chips and Nerve cells

Scientists have connected silicon computer chips under special experimental conditions to certain nerve cells controlling sight or limb movement. But it's very limited so far.

A17 . Can we connect brains and computers?

A full, two-way integration of all 20 billion neurons in our brain with a computer is extremely remote, not only in scale, but even in the concept.

A18. Adapting Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants have recreated a degree of lost hearing, but retinal implants are harder. In principle, such interventions could be adapted to create new human capacities.

A19. Smart homes?

Some scientists envisage one day having brain chips which can interact with sensors in our home or workplace, to control our environment directly as we go about our daily lives

A20. How good are the experiments?

Some scientists say the reported ‘successes’ in connecting computer chips to nerve cells may just reflect how smart our brain is at processing the results of relatively primitive experiments

A21 . Genetic Enhancement Doubts

It is considered much less likely to engineer the complex array of genes which influence human characteristics and behaviour than to enhance us using chemicals or information technology.

A22. Extending lifespan?

Some speculate that the normal human lifespan could be increased to 200 years, perhaps longer. But this presupposes that scientists could arrest a whole range of ageing processes, which few experts currently consider realistic

A23. What's the State of Play?

Enhancements are a mixture of some small real developments and a great deal of speculation, motivated by the desires and values of a few who are pressing for all this to happen.

A24. Technology is in our hands

Enhancement technologies are not an inevitable course that humanity is embarked on, like an unstoppable juggernaut.

A25, What we need to decide

The question facing us is to decide what course to take, faced with these possibilities, what to explore and what to decide not to pursue.

A26. External or Internal to the body - 1

Enhancements are often envisaged as making internal modifications to the body, as distinct from external tools which we can use but then put down again

A27 . External and Internal to the Body - 2

A computer is an external tool. Our brains normally interact with it via the keyboard, screen, loudspeaker, etc. An implanted brain chip would link our brain directly to a computer, or other device.

A28 . Transient or Permanent Effects

Chemical enhancements are transient. You'd need regular or continuous doses to keep the effect going. Implants and modifications in the body would be permanent and difficult to reverse.

A29 . Permanent Genetic change

If we could ever make changes to genes in our reproductive cells, the effect would be permanent and passed on to every following generation.

A30. Upgrading what we do now?

More modest ideas of enhancement envisage just ‘upgrading’ our existing features by small changes - e.g. doing with less sleep to finish a piece of work; greater endurance in a sport

A31. Radical enhancements?

Some envisage going radically beyond our biological limits, like having new sensory capacities, or ‘incorporating’ functions from other species (imagine rock climbing with gecko-like sticky hands), or even from computers?

A32. Medical or Enhancement? - 1

Many people make a distinction between medical interventions because someone is ill, and human enhancements with no relation to any medical condition or the prevention of future illness.

A33. Medical or Enhancement? -2

The European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine makes a legal distinction in allowing sex selection to avoid a gender linked genetic disease but not just for personal preference.

A34 . Suffering and risk

Alleviating human suffering is a strong ethical motivation for medicine but not for an enhancement. Risks taken to save a dying person may be unacceptable for enhancing a healthy one

A35. Limitless possibilities

Transhumanism rejects any distinction between enhancement and the medical aim of restoring 'normal function'. The limitless possibilities of enhancement do away with today's ideas of what's normal for humans.

A36. Medical or Enhancement? - Grey Areas

Is surgical treatment of the physical features of Down’s syndrome medical or cosmetic? Electrode stimulation for Parkinson’s disease can also alter a patient's mood

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