Evolution of Perception and Technological Human Enhancement: Will Hacking the Brain Lead the Future of Human Enhancement?

Meike Scheller, Tayfun Esenkaya, Karin Petrini, Alexandra A de Sousa, Michael Proulx

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


To what extent are we shaping our own evolution through human enhancement of perception, cognition and action? Over millions of years of evolution, natural environments have dictated the shaping of complex sensory systems of living organisms, and their cognitive and motor apparatus as we know them today. More recently (in evolutionary history) we have come to manipulate and create our own environments, making us independent of many classical, natural selection pressures. These new environments benefit from not only the advancements of medicine, but also from rapidly emerging new technologies, both on the level of biological and mechanical engineering. They do not only alleviate, but rather change the selection pressures that act upon us today in many ways. Human enhancement through new technologies plays an increasingly significant role in this shift of selection pressures. Especially in recent years, reverse-engineering of the brain has been increasingly gaining in popularity. By interfacing engineering and neuroscience, we are now starting to hack our biological and psychological systems by altering sensation and cognition as well as enhancing the abilities of our motor systems. Looking into the future of human enhancement, some practical and ethical questions will need to be addressed first. That is, to what extent are we inducing irreversible dependencies on novel, artificial technologies, and can they be alleviated by applying biomimetic principles? Also, how will their introduction to the society create new evolutionary selection pressures by advantaging much higher performing population groups, while accessibility might be driven by factors such as economic power? On the other hand, can this technology help us overcome life-impacting conditions like blindness, deafness or other illnesses? Here, to address such questions, we will focus on three levels of human enhancement in the light of modern human evolution: the creation of new senses, manipulation of cognitive control, and motor enhancement: Sensory impairment can be reversed, to a certain extent, through the restoration of the lost sense, or the substitution with a remaining sense. More recently, cortical prostheses have become increasingly successful for hearing restoration and have further been tested for sensory augmentation on animal models. Sensory augmentation allows us to make use of the brain’s plasticity by providing access to information that is usually not perceivable by our sensory systems. Also, using sensory substitution devices, human research with sensory impaired individuals has taught us how capable the human brain is in adapting to completely new sensory input. Cognitive enhancement, which acts further down the processing stream, has been made accessible through biofeedback and direct brain stimulation, allowing us to modulate cognitive mechanisms like attention, memory, and certain perceptual processes. Motor neural prosthetic systems that allow individuals with motor disabilities to interact with computer screens, prosthetic limbs or control electric wheelchairs have been tested in the last few decades. However, the extent to which prosthetics can outperform normal human physical capabilities has been widely discussed in recent years, and with the speed of technological advancement it might not take long until the engineered versions become better than their biological counterparts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2017
EventHuman Enhancement and Evolution: Scientific, Technological, Policy & ELS Considerations - Centro de Filosofia das Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa (CFCUL), Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 13 Dec 201714 Dec 2017


ConferenceHuman Enhancement and Evolution


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