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Human Performance Enhancement

Over the past several decades, human performance enhancement (HPE) has been the subject of much investigation across numerous disciplines. Recent advances in science and engineering have highlighted the potential benefits of HPE in health care, engineering, and military applications. Performance-enhancing drugs are transforming athletic competitions, bionic suits are aiding transportation of heavy goods by military personnel, and psychotropic pills are shifting the learning landscape of our schools. Efforts to advance the HPE field have accelerated as a result, and the confluence of technologies – biological, mechanical, behavioral, informatics – suggests that changing human performance through artificial means will become pervasive in the twenty-first century, with profound implications for society and the self. The answer to the question “Who is the real me?” has become multifaceted, transforming over time with each new technological advancement.

The rapid expansion of the HPE field also raises new ethical dilemmas that must be resolved in order for society to integrate these approaches in a socially responsible manner. While HPE advancements are already regulated by the government to some degree, many HPE applications occur “off label” with uncontrolled and unapproved experimentation. Therefore, HPEs often rise to public awareness by way of athletic scandals or exposés on students’ seeking an academic edge. This underground experimentation erodes societal acceptance of HPEs, which in turn hinders public discourse and risks further reductions in transparency.

This Academy exploratory study will convene leaders from a diverse range of academic disciplines – including neuroscience, social science, law, history, and ethics – alongside military and corporate experts to undertake a comprehensive review of the field of HPE. The objectives are to 1) review and analyze the current state of research and public discourse on HPE, and 2) identify issues that require further attention from scholars and policy-makers.

Project Chair

  • Steven Hyman
    Broad Institute, MIT and Harvard;
    Harvard University

Project Staff

  • John Randell
  • Keerthi Shetty
  • Alison Leaf
  • Shalin Jyotishi

Project Chair

Steven Hyman, Broad Institute, MIT and Harvard; Harvard University

Workshop Materials

For More Information