The Gifts that Keep on Giving: 25 Human Transformations for Your 2030 Christmas Shopping List
Published on November 1, 2019
Rohit Talwar – Futurist Speaker
By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Maria Romero
How might the most popular human augmentations impact our daily life over the next twenty years?
As we look to a world in which enhancement of the human brain and body are likely to become commonplace, a key question arises: Is a person still human if they are also enhanced, enriched, or augmented by technology? To help readers make their own decisions on this, here, in the spirit of the season, we offer a list of twenty-five human transformations that might make it onto the “must have” holiday shopping list of 2030. Which would you or your loved ones want?
First, most of the emerging transformational technologies aimed at human enhancement fall under a few general categories, despite a good deal of crossover. Here’s a quick guide:
Chemical enhancement: Chemical enhancements would include pharmaceuticals which alter the brain, encompassing nootropics for focus and memory, or psychedelics for vision quests. Any transformation resulting from ingesting a food or drug would fall into this group.
Genetic enhancement: Targeting our DNA and genetics, this category of augmentations involves editing or altering the actual chromosomes and genomes before or after conception. The most commonly discussed technology for genetic enhancement today is CRISPR, a “cheap and easy” means of editing DNA in existing life forms. Genetic transformation also takes us into the realms cloning, designer babies, chimeras, and aging/disease prevention.
Neurological enhancement: Enhancements to the brain can take several forms ranging from hardware to software. Neural implants, electronic stimulation, and brain hacking all fall under this category—implants being actual foreign objects embedded in some way to affect the nervous system. Hacking could involve tapping into the brain via “mind over matter” or altered consciousness state to awaken previously dormant mental, physical, or even metaphysical abilities.
Physical enhancement: Physical transformations would usually appear as hardware add-ons like exoskeletons (i.e. an “Iron Man” suit), endoskeletons with reinforced bones, chip implantations, bionic eyes, or other prosthetics. These could be bionic, cyborg, 3D/4D printed, or otherwise innovative adaptations, which can either be removed (like prosthetics, clothing, or armor) or permanent (surgically attached or implanted). Genetic manipulation to achieve extreme physical beauty or strength would be included in this category.
Electronic enhancement: The use of electronics involves the transformation of intelligence, consciousness, or humanity into digital form. Any type of uploading or downloading of human “content” in digital data form (hard drives or to the cloud) could be considered an electronic enhancement. There may also be types of implants or tattoos that read vital signs to communicate them to the Internet of things (IoT), blockchains, or digital public health data sets. Health applications of nanotechnology could fall under this category along with wearable technology, and human transformations that deal with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
Radical life extension: Extending life often refers to “curing death” as its raison d’être. Aging is viewed as an unnecessary evil, a mere medical problem waiting to be solved. Being able to live 125 years or more with comfort and good health seems to be the current vision for life extension proponents, who advocate for pharmaceutical, dietary, and lifestyle adaptations to achieve longer than natural life spans.
Cryogenic freezing/Cryopreservation: Rather than extend life, this transformative breakthrough puts life on pause, to restart later in time, decades or centuries from now. The idea behind cryogenic freezing is that in the future, medical technology will be able to reanimate a body which has been preserved in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures. The elderly and the terminally ill are the most likely candidates for cryo, although in the future there could also be elective preservation conducted for personal reasons by otherwise healthy people. Of course, we have no idea whether we’ll ever have the technology to re-awaken the physical body and restore memory and consciousness.
The holiday shopping list of 2030 may contain several of these future transformations wrapped up in a neat package of human enhancements. Below are twenty-five radical suggestions you might treat your friends, colleagues, and family members to in the coming decades. Happy holidays!
- Instant Content Upgrades – Uploading a new language, a map, knowledge about a client or project, and key information prior to a romantic date or a business meeting could be available over the next 10 to 15 years through instant content updates to the human brain. This would be achieved either through direct downloads to our web-connected brains or via plug-in memory devices for more confidential information.
- Brain-Computer Interface – Wireless communication between our brains and an array of connected devices could become a reality. From computers and phones, to domestic appliances and in-car entertainment systems—we would be able to operate gadgets with our thoughts. These wearable or implanted sensors and transmission devices would allow us to communicate as we do with Siri and Alexa today, but without saying a word.
- Smart Contact Lenses – Who needs screens when you have eyes that can be turned into visual interfaces? Every device could easily connect with your smart contact lenses and present the information you desire such as augmented reality overlays of a city as you sightsee. Your requests would be communicated using eye movement, gestures, words, or telepathic commands.
- Beyond the Rainbow – Gene therapy has cured color blindness in monkeys; if clinical trials are allowed, color blind humans may be next. Eventually, science may expand our color vision to include all wavelengths of light, from gamma rays to ultraviolet and even radio waves. Humans might literally see the world in a whole new light.
- Beyond Sound – As humans age, we naturally lose the ability to hear higher frequencies. In the future, we may be able to reverse this, or even enhance human hearing beyond the normal range via aural implants directly connected to our brains.
- Endoskeleton – Become stronger and fitter from the inside out, but without most of the requirement for exercise and healthy eating. Physical and genetic enhancements applied to your bones and muscles would improve your Body Mass Index (BMI) and performance from the get-go. Reinforced bones would improve tone and strength with no extra work needed.
- Implanted Immunity Bubble – Subcutaneous implants would detect pathogens in the immediate environment and provide antibodies to protect us from specific contagious diseases. This would make most public health measures irrelevant as coughing, sneezing, and touching may no longer pose a risk. Hand washing could become a redundant activity and vaccines unnecessary, while a global antibiotic crisis could also be averted.
- Heightened Sensitivity – Through deep brain stimulation, humans may eventually have total control over how much physical sensations affect them. We could turn a dial to increase touch sensitivity during intimate moments, or while playing a car chase computer game, but dial down our sensitivity in anticipation of a physical altercation.
- Reality Check Implant – This personal detection system would allow us to control our experience of mixed reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality sensory stimulation environments. The system would block out photoshopped, virtual, augmented, digital, or holographic imagery, and other sensory inputs whenever the wearer wants to “keep it real.”
- Wear Your Reputation on Your Sleeve – One’s online reputation may become a valuable form of currency in the future, and be considered in job-seeking or credit applications, for example. Tattoos or embedded objects could change, grow, morph, and otherwise shape-shift depending on one’s fluctuating online reputation score. A score might be comprised of the number of social media contacts, shares, likes, or uploads.
- Cosmetic Gene Editing – The gene modification technology known as CRISPR introduced in 2012 has already made it “cheap and easy” to edit genomes inside the body. The CRISPR system’s ease of use means it could be adopted for almost any gene-editing requirement. So, while doctors could apply the technology as a targeted cancer treatment, we could also see the same approach used for cosmetic augmentation. For example, shopping malls could provide services to change clients’ hair thickness, eye color, and skin pigmentation, making CRISPR treatments as common as other beauty and lifestyle options.
- Immersive Experiential Technologies – Augmented, multi-sensory, and immersive mixed or virtual reality could create opportunities for new types of life experience. For example, feeling the bed linen, tasting the food, and smelling the bathroom fragrances of a hotel on the other side of the world would be part of choosing where to visit. You could possibly consume a range of experiences direct from your living room, in place of travelling: Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Serengeti while you eat your takeaway pizza in Brooklyn.
- 3D Cloner: See and Print – This device would allow a product to be identified and 3D printed in real time and “on sight.” Special optical lens implants would trigger the cloning of the item being viewed by the wearer, like taking a snapshot. Clothing, food, and even medical products like prosthetic arms or legs could be created instantaneously on the spot, “cloning” whatever item the user glances at, and transmitting the design to be produced on 3D printing machines.
- The God Pill – Advances in pharmaceuticals and neuroscience could lead to a breakthrough drug designed to experience a higher state of consciousness which some might call “God.” This might provide a feeling of one’s place in the universe, a sense of oneness with nature, or help you visualize yourself face to face with an actual deity. These hallucinogenic experiences would fall somewhere on a spectrum between recreational and therapeutic, depending on the recipient’s state of mind at the time. This could be perfect for coping with mid-life crises, dealing with the death of a loved one, anxiety disorders, accepting a terminal diagnosis, and recovering from addiction. Or, just try it for fun.
- 3D Printed Wings – We could fly as close to the sun as we like with customized 3D printed wings, which are perfectly designed to bring aerodynamic freedom and flight. These powerful, lightweight appendages could be attached surgically and removed by a visiting robo-surgeon or with an in-home DIY kit and training video (sold separately).
- Always a Good Hair Day – A gene-altering pill that could change a hairstyle within fifteen minutes from straight to curly would save time and energy since styling is eliminated from the daily routine, and there would be no need to visit the hair salon. Furthermore, toxic beauty products could be eliminated from daily regimens with this enhancement. This would also be ideal for traveling to extremely humid or dry climates. This pill’s popularity could surge in regions where climate change is already having an effect.
- Virtual Reality Empathy Machine: Walk a Mile in My Shoes* – Conflict resolution would be simplified with virtual reality empathy films, which allow friends, family members, teachers, students, bosses, workers, and even litigators in court to literally see the world through each other’s eyes. Benefits would include greater interpersonal intimacy and understanding, elimination of sibling rivalries, and dealing swiftly with difficult people. *Requires pre-installation of a memory recording device.
- Sleep with the Fishes – Using “mind over matter” psychological approaches, hacking of the human body might someday allow people to breathe underwater. The brain would convince the body it has certain fish-like abilities—specifically, greater lung capacity. Humans could then live in futuristic underwater cities, engaging in a little live action role play as Aquaman or a mermaid, or just enjoy swimming with the dolphins during island vacations without scuba gear. Such an enhancement could also enable humans to settle or just vacation on floating or underwater cities without fear of drowning.
- Cryopreservation Pal – Cryogenic freezing is a medical technology that preserves a human body in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures, hopefully for later reanimation at some point in the future. A cryopreservation chamber, which fits one human and one dog or large cat, could make the deep sleep a bit less frightening. It would be nice to know your best friend will be there when you wake up in twenty or a hundred years’ time. Instant companionship might make the idea of being reanimated in the far future a little less daunting for people who don’t have spouses or family members being cryopreserved.
- Perfect Body in a Pill – What if, at last, medical science achieves the ultimate win for sofa surfers, and creates a pill to give you the body of a god without putting in all the work or adopting any healthy habits? Ripped abs, ageless skin, perfect proportions—what more could someone want? For those who do want more, a second daily pill could generate an intoxicating body odor.
- Exoskeleton – Achieving superhuman strength and endurance might be possible with an exoskeleton suit of external body armor that turns any average person into Iron Man. Physical labor would be a breeze with the addition of robotic arms, legs, and a back which never tire or run low on energy. Whilst this would be great for work or recreational sports, it puts house movers, construction workers, and even weight lifters at risk of being “replaced by cyborgs.”
- Elephant Man or Woman – Imagine never forgetting anything ever again. Elephants are believed to have the longest memory of any living creature. With the help of neural implants, now people can remember forever, too! These implants, possibly in the form of a “neural lace” lattice of tiny sensors under or just above the skull, could improve memory, and may ultimately also prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This would make a perfect gift for the radical age-extender in your life, or elderly relatives who’ve not yet shown signs of dementia.
- Digital Happy Pill – Dwellers of the world’s high-tech smart cities could opt to take a pill that lets them have their lives monitored and managed remotely with 24/7 data capture and surveillance, day in and day out. Imagine having each and every behavior monitored, and, if necessary, modified, by the city’s central nervous system based on a smart city artificial intelligence program. One of the ways to alleviate fears, paranoias, or other mental delusions concerning “privacy” might be to take this daily “digital happy pill”, jointly monitored by city planners and medical professionals to ensure smart city residents are the happiest citizens on earth! Smile, you’re on camera (constantly, even in your own home)!
- 4D Printed Skin – 4D printed materials are essentially “shape shifting” in the sense that they can change their form and properties based on external stimuli. So, wetness prompts drying or absorption, heat promotes cooling, and so forth. In the future, a skinsuit, active skin covering, or surgical skin implant could give humans the ability to adapt to their environment seamlessly. Clothing may become unnecessary with this form-fitting, shape-shifting material, which could look like clothes, skin, or whatever the wearer selects. An essential adaptation in extreme climates, 4D printed skin is also ideal for the fashionista in your life.
- Organ Regeneration – The ability to regenerate human organs could end the ravages of disease, aging, and even injury. By 2030, organ regeneration modification may be the signature transformation of life-extension adopters. Careful consideration should be taken with the giving of this gift (particularly with alcoholics and drug abusers), as it could actually enable irresponsible behavior.
- What enhancement or superpower would you most like to have?
- Where do we draw the line between human and bionic? Human and cyborg?
- Which traits could or should never be replicated by technology? Where is the line between enhancement and eugenics?
- What kind of legal framework would we need to develop in order to address the concerns around human augmentation?
This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.
A version of this article was originally published in The Journal of MHealth.