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The next generation of humans -- or perhaps the one after that -- will face a difficult choice: do they equip their children with "enhancements"? A group of researchers, led by Ray Kurzweil, is suggesting that we are approaching "the Singularity", where technologies will enhance our mental and physical capabilities to produce a giant leap in what human beings can do. Most of these technologies were initially developed to help those with health problems, but they are now being co-opted for those looking to get past their normal limitations. Drugs developed to help children with ADHD are already in common use in academia as concentration improvers. Retinal implants that help the partially sighted are being developed as bionic eyes. Brain implants, such as those developed to fight neurological problems such as Parkinson's disease, are paving the way for neural enhancement and donate to an ill sibling; selecting for other kinds of advantage is not far behind. The big worry is it may leave us with a new enhancement-free underclass.

Historians place the beginning of modern culture around the time when humanity abandoned hunter-gathering in favor of crop cultivation, about 10,000 years ago. This makes us 400 generations old (25-yrs-per-generation). When we began this trip, life was brutal, medicine almost non-existent and average life expectancy was puberty; living just long enough to reproduce.

But we've progressed rapidly through the years. Average life expectancy now pushes 80 in developed countries, and according to UN census data, octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians are the fastest-growing age groups. Today, scientists are poised to eliminate most diseases; and one day, a few forward-thinkers believe we will even conquer death.

Author Ray Kurzweil in his top-selling book, The Singularity is Near says, "Between 2035 and 2050, we will merge knowledge, skills, and personalities with artificial intelligence. This will produce a superior human that thinks, reasons, and communicates more efficiently than today's humans."

So in about two generations, we will begin merging with our machines. This means civilized humans will have lasted only 402 generations, a rather short lifespan for Earth species.

However, experts say this does not signal the end of humanity. Replacing body parts with non-biological materials like false teeth, cochlear implants, titanium hips, thought-controlled prosthetics, and artificial neurons does not take away our humanity. Even if we swapped every cell in our body for 'artificial' materials, by maintaining our memories and consciousness, we would still consider ourselves human.

By mid-2030s, experts say, computers are expected to surpass human intelligence, which many believe will enable human-machine mind transfers. Some people may choose to increase their intelligence by downloading data from these super-intelligent machines directly into their brains, while a few brave risk-takers will transfer memories, emotions, and consciousness into an android and become the machine. Both groups will consider themselves 'human'.

In the following years, enhanced humans and human-like machines will adopt features from each other until by the 2060s or 2070s; everyone will enjoy a similar body type that automatically repairs itself when damaged. This milestone will finally put an end to human suffering, sickness, and dying.

Eliminating death will free humanity to focus on deeper thoughts. We can now grasp what it means to be human – to live life in an indestructible body on a fragile planet that needs our help. We’ll turn to technologies that enable us to achieve Type I Civilization status, which cosmologists identify as the ability to utilize 100% of the sun’s energy that strikes our planet.

This power will help us terraform a better Earth; eliminate global warming, and control the weather. No more hurricanes, earthquakes, or storms. Sunshine and rain can be directed to fall where needed.

On the lighter side, our bodies will not require food or sleep, but many will miss these activities; so a Star Trek Holodeck-like entertainment system will let us experience these and other scenarios – visits with loved ones, trips to exotic galaxies, and romantic encounters. Imaginations will run wild on the 'Holodeck'. We’ll create situations so real; we won’t even realize they're simulations.

If this "magical future" unfolds as suggested, many people alive today will enjoy an indefinite lifespan as we move through the 21st century and beyond.

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