Imminent Posthuman Revolution Will Widen Gap Between the Rich and the Poor
Scientists, philosophers, and sci-fi writers alike have been predicting that humans would achieve "posthuman" status, or engage in self-directed evolution that enhances humanity to the point that we're no longer considered homo sapiens. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari claims in his new book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that we will indeed make posthuman improvements available in the near future, but they will first and foremost be available to the rich and will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
The book begins with the premise "Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights," and goes on to call capitalism "the most successful religion ever invented." The principles of said "religion," according to Harari, will lead to a wealthy race of superintelligent, biologically enhanced posthumans and a second-class race of poorer, normal humans. These ideas have precedent in real-life medicine; cochlear implants, for example, allow deaf people to hear, but they cost $40,000, which is out of many families' price range.
"In the 20th century, the main task of medicine was to bring everybody to a certain level of health and capability. It was by definition an egalitarian aim," Harari told The Guardian. "In the 21st century medicine is moving onwards and trying to surpass the norm, to help people live longer, to have stronger memories, to have better control of their emotions. But upgrading like that is not an egalitarian project, it's an elitist project. No matter what norm you reach, there is always another upgrade which is possible."
Many human enhancements on the horizon would only be available to the rich, at least at first. Researchers are working on allowing people to cryopreserve their bodies, in an effort to achieve virtual immortality. The most recently proposed technique, by the cryonics company Alcor, would cost $200,000. "Designer baby" techniques are becoming more and more common as well; while there may be untold benefits to this technology, such as the eradication of certain genetic diseases, it is also, as Harari put it, an elitist process. The average person will spend up to $50,000 on these procedures- as much as the average American family makes in a year.
"In the 21st century, there is a real possibility of creating biological castes, with real biological differences between rich and poor," said Harari. "The end result could be speciation. We're used to being the only human species around, but there is no law of nature that says there can only be one species of human. With this kind of upgrading treatment we could have, in the not too distant future, more than one human species on Earth again."