Wednesday 11 March 2015 9:16 pm

Human to superhuman: Time to upgrade yourself

If you could use biotechnology to upgrade yourself, would you? Perhaps you’ve always despaired at your numerical illiteracy, or maybe you have trouble remembering things. A branch of science is looking beyond mere wearable tech toward a future of devices that you actually add to your body to make it better. From hearing aids to the blades used by Paralympic sprinters, advances in the field of human enhancement (or augmentation) have revolutionised the lives of disabled people over the last hundred years. 

A brass leg photographed by Omkaar Kotedia

But what about everyone else? In two weeks the Science Museum is hosting You Have Been Upgraded, a festival exploring the future of human enhancement. The four day event will cover everything from brain hacking to digital implants, and will transport visitors to a future where a mysterious super-corporation, Unlimited Enhancement Technologies (UNET), has elevated biotechnologists to rock-star status. 
Created by the Science Museum in collaboration with immersive theatre company Unlimited Theatre, the festival presents a futuristic take on the life-changing technology currently being developed by leading scientists, artists and designers. Visitors can see the latest technologies across four key areas: high-tech prosthetics, neural implants, brain enhancers and sense augmentation devices.

A brain stimulation helmet

“Biotechnology has unlocked incredible medical interventions…” says at the Science Museum content developer David Robertson. “Some of these could be used to enhance or change healthy bodies and minds. We’re putting on a spectacular show that prompts visitors to ask: how do I feel about humanity upgrading itself?” It’s a question frequently explored in the sci-fi genre, with films like Robocop and The Running Man offering a not altogether optimistic vision of what biotech might have in store. In reality the kinds of enhancements being worked on by scientists involve less spectacular gains; for example the Oxford neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh, who uses carefully controlled electric currents to boost the brain’s maths skills, attention and memory. 

What a bionic hand might look like in the future

Visitors to the festival can explore the cutting edge of human enhancement technology, and look beyond it with experimental virtual realities created by experts from the Sackler Centre from Consciousness Science. The future looks bright for the superhuman race.