Building a Better Brain

Let’s look forward a number of years. Bioengineering is at the point where replacing people’s organs with lab-grown ones is standard procedure. Gone are the days of transplant patients taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. Transplanted organs are all manufactured using stem cells from their own body, from bone marrow or from skin or any number of different sources. New organs are rapidly grown using modified growth hormones to speed up their development. A complete new organ is grown within a few weeks, a surgery performed, and the transplant patient home within days. Because of the relative low cost of such procedures, all have access to transplants. Replacing hearts, livers, lungs, kidneys, and other organs increased the life expectancy dramatically with most people living well over 100 years. Scientists are on the verge of transplanting the first manufactured brain. Knowledge of neural networks and cognition is at the point where a person’s entire knowledge system and all memories can be downloaded and stored as a backup. Scientists are working on manufacturing an entire replica human body as a “clone” in case a person is seriously injured. While individual organs come fairly cheap, a whole body is prohibitively expensive. A large portion of the cost is the brain. Even though scientists have created working brains, their success rate is still only about 5% (but always getting better). They go through a lot of brains.

Some people use this new biotechnology for creating backups of their bodies. Other people have started using it to enhance the performance of their existing body. In laboratory situations scientists are able to create organs that are effectually perfect. They are created in well-controlled situations and don’t have to go through the gauntlet of normal development, with exposure to teratogens, fluctuations in nutrition, and all the other things that can affect development. Popular organs to replace are hearts and lungs. People are able to run faster than ever before due to more efficient hearts and lungs. Other people get new legs or arms with well-sculpted muscles. Still other receive nanotech implants to enhance normal biological performance. None of this is being done in the United States or in the United Kingdom but there are plenty of countries that don’t outlaw the procedures

With the common body enhancing going on many people want to enhance their brains. They want a new brain created with certain gyri a little bit bigger and cortex a little bit thicker. Some researchers are working on improving the speed and efficiency of neurotransmitting. Most of the improvements in brain design come from turning on and off certain genes at different time points in development and providing the lab-grown brains optimal nutrients and stimulation. These enhancements can create brains that can learn 1000 times more in 1000 times less time.

I’ve taken a bit of liberty in my hypothetical treatment of bioengineering and biotechnology in the unspecified future. There is little, scientifically-speaking, that stands in the way of us as humans eventually reaching this point. The question is, should we? Should we seek to create immortal and essentially all-knowing humans through science. Supposing humans can build better brains and bodies, should they control and manipulate natural biological processes to the extent that they can create “superbeings”? I’m not going to answer any of the questions; I just want to raise them. With our great advances in bioengineering, technology, and neuroscience, where do we draw the line, assuming we do draw a line? Do we eradicate all developmental, genetic, and environmental diseases and disorders. Do we cure epilepsy, cancer, Autism, Alzheimer’s Disease, and ever other disorder? Do we enhance some functioning, such as hearts or muscles but not the brain?

With all advances in science, we have to always be mindful of the underlying morality and ethics of the advances. we need to make sure that our advances do not out-pace our morals.

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