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Effects of Transhumanism on
United States National Security
By: Media Ajir
University Of Nebraska-Omaha
The concept of manipulating, modifying and enhancing human life past biological limits has
numerous unprecedented results, especially in the realm of military forces and security. More
specifically, this study focuses on the effects of “Transhumanism” on US national security.
On a positive note, “super soldiers” may strengthen national security with a deterrence effect
against foreign enemies, while maintaining optimal personal health. It may also have positive
implications on the seven threat areas to human security, as defined by the United Nations,
ranging from economic security to health security. On the other hand, allowing potential
adversaries to produce similar technologies inevitably leads to a classic security dilemma.
This new interconnectivity between humans and technology has the capability to outweigh
nuclear weapons in terms of strategic interest and the international balance of power. Soon,
states will be pressured to adopt policies about Transhumanism in regards to regulation and
security. I recommend senior level policy makers and military strategists to invest in
exploring this technology, while realizing potential dangers as we move into a new emerging
The human species’ constant thirst and obsession with advancement of knowledge has
brought us to a point where progress is now exponential, rather than a linear curve. This
graph’s nearly vertical line is paving way for unprecedented technologies, as well as new
methods of warfare. Of interest is the topic of Transhumanism, a phenomenon that may be
used to profoundly change the future of national security. Through the use of
nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science (NBIC),
human enhancement technologies are well on their way to defining a new era. Even “among
those who promote their use, there is an emerging understanding of a potential threat from
NBIC technologies. Nevertheless, the vast majority of transhumanists hold an essentially
progressive view of technological change, despite the fact that there are good reasons to have
a pessimistic view of progress” (Verdoux 2009, McIntosh 2010). While many of these
transhuman technologies are external devices, the shrinking rate of devices continues at a
pace where we may soon expect enhancements small enough to be integrated with the human
body; either way, we are redefining what it means to be human.
This paper will use theories of military strategy and technological singularity to
advocate transhumanism as a positive tool for national security. It will distinguish certain
technologies and their positive and negative influences, and argue that, to the extent they
correspond to real risks, the better route to take is one that embraces these technologies rather
than trying to implement broad bans on enhancements.
Define: National security
It’s important to understand what national security today means, because it frames the
way in which U.S. officials find solutions to related problems. The term “national security,”
coined in the 1940s by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of the navy, James Forrestal, has
“meant protection from organized violence caused by armed foreigners” (Report to the
National Security Council, 1950). Since the 1947 National Security Act, which provided a
governmental structure for dealing with national security issues at the time, security policy
has also evolved. From World War II, to the battle against communism and the collapse of the
Soviet Union, to the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the underlying need for
maintaining stability domestically and overseas through the use of military force has always
been clear (Abbot 2008; Chandra & Bhonsle 2015; Floyd 2008).
But there has been a doubtless evolution of the word as it has reached present day.
Maier (1990) defined national security as: “...a capacity to control those domestic and foreign
conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own
self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and well- being.” The constant theme in the
evolution of the term is the association of various elements of national defense. Through the
use of coercive power, these elements include “safeguarding of a people, territory, and way of
life that includes protection against attack on the territory and the people of the US in order to
ensure survival with fundamental values and institutions intact, promotion of values and
economic prosperity” (Jordan et al. 2011).
In today's highly complicated and interconnected world faced with non-traditional
threats such as widespread diseases and climate change, it's imperative we refine the term to
be more all encompassing. The United Nations has identified the seven types of human
security that essentially fall under a nation’s umbrella of national security: economic, food,
health, environmental, personal, community, and political. An example of this could include
climate change’s increasing role played in the national security dialogue. As Richard Ullman
(1983) once argued, defining national security mainly in military terms “conveys a profoundly
false image of reality” (129), because the world is constantly evolving. While there is still no
widely accepted definition of national security, basic concepts include a broad range of
protecting the nation's strategic interests and survival by selective combined uses of the
instruments of national power (Ramsay and O'Sullivan 2013). For the purpose of this
research, I argue these instruments should exceed conventional power and include the techno-
Military Offset Theory
An offset can be defined as counteracting something by having an opposing force or
effect. An offset strategy sets out to change an unfavorable competition to one that is more
advantageous for the side executing the strategy. It is an asymmetrical techno-centric
approach; put simply, a military offset strategy seeks to enhance “the US capabilities and
missions with a path of new technology that will extend the armed forces” (Carafano 2014).
Countering potential threats in a symmetrical manner (“soldier to soldier” and “tank to tank”)
has never been economical or strategically effectual for the United States, which is why
“technological superiority over potential adversaries is a basic aspect of any US techno-
offset” (Onuta 2015) military strategy. By gaining this technological dominance, any US
offset strategy is bound to secure deterrence as well.
The first offset strategy was constructed in the 1950s, usually referred to as
Eisenhower’s New Look strategy. It relied on the US’s first “global reach” military approach:
long range air power and nuclear weapons. This advantage led to the creation of deterrence
theory: meaning enemy parties would refrain from initiating attack due to military threats
given by the US to avoid war. A decade later, the Soviet Union also attained nuclear
technologies, altering the US nuclear deterrence strategy from one sided to Mutually Assured
Destruction (MAD) strategy (Jackson 2014, Onuta 2015).
The second offset strategy, established in the early 1970s, was known as Brown-
Perry’s Assault Breaker strategy, largely resulting from the Soviet Union’s successful
advancement into nuclear power. It used technologies such as satellite navigation, military
space operations, and stealth weaponry, hoping to suggest a much larger ability to perform
precision strikes (Haddick 2014, Tomes 2014, Onuta 2015).
The third offset strategy is known as Hagel’s Defense Innovative Initiative (DII). Its
purpose is not just battlefield superiority, but strategic dominance through disruptive
technologies. Disruptive technologies can be differentiated from other technologies with their
“acute rate of technological change, extended potentiality of technological ‘chain reactions’,
and sufficient relevance for profound economic impact” (Manyika 2013). This offset strategy
is one that is closely associated with the “robotics revolution,” including technologies such as
“Mechatronics, electronics at the scale reaching the theoretical limit in miniaturization in data
speed, quantum computing, novel materials, hybrid neurodevices (e.g. mind-reading helmets
as scanners of brain electric fields), trans-human augmentation, etc.” (Onuta 2015).
It is imperative to acknowledge “if a military strategy relied on a novel but immature
disruptive technology, then that strategy would become ineffective until an acceptable
elaborating buildup of the technology” (Onuta 2015). A disruptive offset strategy should be
formulated when a certain threshold has been reached, and there have been “dramatic
improvements in military effectiveness and combat potential due to the application of new
technologies or combat systems” (Work 2014). This threshold is known as a Military
Technical Revolution (MTR).
20YY Warfare Initiative
Due to the rise of cutting-edge research on unmanned and increasingly autonomous
systems, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has launched a program known as
the “20YY warfare initiative” (Onuta 2015, Scharre 2014, Work 2014). The YY illustrates the
uncertainty of the decade when a MTR threshold will be established. This new 20YY regime
may be the pragmatic foundation of the third and future offset strategies. It is devised to
“favor game changing technologies that lock-in the privileged technological position of the
US with respect to old and newly-emerging world powers” (Onuta 2015). Because the nature
of this technology is fast paced, Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors per
square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since the integrated circuit was
invented, is set to collapse between 2020-2030 due to the nature of exponential growth that
makes the law unstable. However, “the general progress of technology follows an extended
Moore’s Law known as the “law of accelerating returns” or Kurzweil’s Law, and is
characterized by an exponential [technological] growth with an exponential rate” (Onuta
2015). We can see this in the spread and miniaturization of technology in the military realm.
This law is also highly unstable, due to the rate of exponential growth illustrated by the
creation and spread of miniaturized technology in the military realm, and is also set to
collapse with the emergence of a new reality in what is coined “technological singularity”
(Kurzweil 2005, Onuta 2015, Vinge 1993).
Technological singularity would produce biological and non-biological disruptive
technologies one after another in no time with no analytical pattern. There will come a point
in time where the rate of technological development is so rapid, the progress curve will
become nearly vertical. It will “represent the moment when machine “artificial intelligence
exceeds human intelligence in any quantifiable aspect” (Onuta 2015). With this technological
schism well on its way, “offset strategies before the technology singularity époque should
prepare the framework to comprehend the connection between machine and human cognition
and to optimize its human-in-loop control” (Onuta 2015), while remembering that
technological dominance should be a strategic choice in the force of a global military balance.
Define: 1) Transhumanism
Transhumanism is a notion that the biological evolution of humanity has no regular
pace or endpoint- in fact; we may speed up the process with the use of technology. Capacity
for greatness and enhancement of human capabilities can increase, helping to overcome some
of our basic biological limits. These areas include, but are not limited to: expansion of the
human healthspan, elimination of disease and unnecessary suffering, and heightened physical,
emotional and intellectual competence. The state in which a human is able to surpass these
limits is referred to as “post-human.”
In order to achieve a post-human state, we should take an interdisciplinary approach to
understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition through a
responsible use of science and technology. This view is “guided by an evolving vision to take
a more active approach to technology policy… to create the opportunity to live much longer
and healthier lives” (Bostrom 2003). To promote Transhumanism is to promote
morphological and reproductive freedom; in other words, individuals should find
enhancement technologies not only widely available, but should also have broad
consideration over which technologies they wish to apply to themselves and their children.
It’s important to remember that Transhumanists do not favor post-humans over
humans but rather transhumanism “enables us to realize our ideals better and that some of our
ideals may well be located outside the space of modes of being that are accessible to us with
our current biological constitutions” (Bostrom 2003). For example, biology will not allow a
human to regrow a missing body part, but with advancement in prosthetics and neural-
machine interface, it is fully feasible to replace the missing part. It’s also important to note
that embracing Transhumanism ideals are not synonymous with support for its potentially
negative side effects such as weapons abuse or social inequality. Instead Transhumanists
strongly defend human rights and individual choice in the post-human field.
Due to Transhumanism’s loosely defined nature over the past three decades of its
emergence, I will create a developmental spectrum illustrating the types of technologies that
are considered transhuman. By presenting Transhumanism as a spectrum, we may easily
identify which technologies play different roles as well as track the progress of Transhumanist
ideals. This spectrum will consist of technologies that have integrated breakthroughs across
numerous disciplines, the main ones being nanotechnology, biotechnology, information
technology, and cognitive science (NBIC) (Bainbridge, 2013). Nanotechnology involves the
construction and modification of objects on the scale of a single molecule. Biotechnology
uses organism, or parts thereof, to achieve ends. Information technology refers to computer
hardware, software, and networking. And cognitive science applications study intelligence
and intelligence systems (McIntosh 2010). These NBICs are “evolving very rapidly, at an
accelerating speed that is comparable to the exponential integration of transistors” (Caon et al.
2016), modeled after Moore’s law. Due to the highly extensive list of past and ongoing
technologies and research projects conducted, it will be impossible to list all of them. I will
pick the most important ones [to the best of my knowledge] and categorize these technologies
starting with rehabilitation technologies, leading up to enhancement technologies, therefore,
the x axis will be divided.
The distinction between these two categories lies in the fact that the former
technologies “are used as treatment to heal or improve health conditions in order to restore
normal functioning” while the latter “comprehends the application of technologies that aim at
improving abilities and characteristics beyond normal functioning” (Caon et al. 2016). While
“the therapeutic paradigm of medical practice aims to heal and reduce suffering, to return the
ill to a state of normal health…many interventions can be used by the healthy to enhance
specific traits or capacities beyond the physiological or statistical norm” (Tennison and
Moreno 2012). I have taken into account the European Parliament's (2009) definitions for
human enhancement technologies that distinguish therapeutic and non-therapeutic for my own
spectrum (Appendix A). So although rehabilitation technologies don’t necessarily fall under
the definition of Transhumanism being used in this research, including it in the spectrum will
illustrate how the iterative sciences behind these therapeutic technologies have built off one
another to create enhancement technologies. For example, work on memory impairments is
leading to new understandings into the brain’s functioning, which could in turn increase its
capacity. Another way to envision the spectrum is from a severity standpoint: from left to
right will illustrate an evolution from mild and present technologies to much more extreme
and futuristic ones.
Use of drugs to combat fatigue and enhance cognitive functions has proved to be an
attractive idea, whether in the sports community or military forces. Contemporary
applications of neuro-pharmacology for efficiency include Amphetamines, Methylxanthines,
Cholinergic agonists, and Anticholinesterases, all of which treat sleep disorders, promote
alertness and vigilance and improve cognitive functions. Then there are drugs like MDMA
that will act as rehabilitation psychotherapy in PTSD. As effects of these drugs become more
extreme with worse side effects, there is “an increasing number of non-pharmacological
methods for promoting military efficiency” (Tracey, 2014), reiterating the point that many
rehabilitation technologies eventually lead to enhancement technologies.
Prosthetic devices have long been an alternative to those who have lost a limb, serving
as a rehabilitation agent. The evolution of these agents can largely be attributed to repaying a
debt we owe to service members in the military. DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics
program created in 2004 has made significant strides in expanding prosthetic choices for
amputees by the miniaturization of parts and creating stronger materials. One of these strides
includes the FDA approved DEKA Arm System which allows for “simultaneous control of
multiple joints using a variety of input devices including wireless signals generated by
innovative sensors on the user’s feet” (2014).
An easy way to understand organs: “The first level includes flat organs like skin,
which comprise just a few types of cells. Next up are tubes, like windpipes or blood vessels,
with slightly more complex shapes and more varied collections of cells. The third level
includes hollow sac-like organs, like the bladder or stomach. Unlike the tubes, which just act
as pipes for fluid, these organs have to perform on demand – secreting, expanding or filtering
as the situation arises” (Yong 2012). The fourth level, which consists of solid organs like the
kidneys, heart, lung, and liver present the toughest challenge, while the transplants of the first
three level types have been successfully performed.
Electrical arrays implanted in the memory centers of the brain through targeted
electrical stimulation have shown promise to help individuals suffering from traumatic brain
injuries or other memory deficits. DARPA’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program has
been conducting studies using miniaturized neural interface hardware implanted to interpret
brain signals, aiming to give researchers the ability to “read the neural processes involved in
memory formation and retrieval, and even predict when a volunteer is about to make an error
in recall” (2015). By doing so, scientists are discovering how implanting neurotechnologies
can facilitate the brain’s performance of memory functions.
By looking at gene expression, the signals that the muscle is getting in order to grow,
breakdown, and develop more mitochondria, it is possible to document the connection to
performance. Essentially, this research is looking to find the most effective way to exercise
and target these particular cellular processes, ending with the most optimal exercise program
for a given individual. The prime subject for this research is the military athlete, who
inevitably has much to lose; therefore, it’s crucial to train them in the most efficient ways.
Making sure our soldiers are safe is top priority, and one way we can do that is by having
them physically perform to the best of their abilities.
The most revolutionizing technique in genetic engineering to date is referred to as
“CRISPR,” which facilitates making specific changes in DNA on a molecular scale. In order
to manipulate our own genetic code, we must go in and edit the genome; essentially targeting
specific areas, cut a piece out and put a new piece in (Pennisi 2013). For example, by
eliminating genes that code for certain metabolic proteins, studies have shown to make mice
slim no matter much junk food they eat. This new advanced technology may lead to future
breakthroughs in anti-aging therapies, immunity to disease, etc.
Brain-computer interface, sometimes called brain-machine interface, or direct neural
interface, refers to a communication pathway between a brain and an external device. It uses
both invasive as well as non-invasive techniques. Non-invasive refers to the electro-
encephalography (EEG) method which has become standard for military helmets and head
ware. While more invasive methods include direct cranial connections. Research in this field
primarily focuses on restoring damaged hearing, sight, and movement. DARPA’s Reliable
Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program launched in 2010 sought to “develop the
technologies needed to reliably extract information from the nervous system, and do so at the
scale and rate necessary to control many degree-of-freedom machines” (Weber --). More
recently, the research team under this program has developed a neural-recording device that
“can be implemented into the brain through blood vessels, reducing the need for invasive
surgery and the risks associated with breaching the blood-brain barrier (Weber--). Essentially,
this “sentrode” will reduce the need for open-brain surgery needed to penetrate electrode
arrays implanted in the motor cortex required for direct brain control and pave way for more
practical pathways to applications of brain-machine interfaces.
Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX):
The key focus of this program is creating technology to interface permanently with the
peripheral nerves in humans. This has “created a prosthetic hand system that moves and
provides sensation like a natural hand” (Weber ---). HAPTIX has taken a prosthetic limb
system developed under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program to incorporate
interfaces built on advanced neural interface technologies being developed through DARPA’s
RE-NET Program, which will ultimately provide intuitive control and sensory feedback to
users. Future research building on this is set to provide sensory feedback for lower-limb
prosthetics as well.
RAM Replay Program:
Taking memory formation and retrieval a step above, DARPA launched an effort in
October of 2015 to develop neurotechnologies to assist not just in remembering individual
items but learn complex, physical skills faster. Along with repetition of physical movement,
mastering complex skills involves mental and physiological “replaying” of the skill in order to
solidify it. The RAM Replay program will study direct neural and physiological interfaces as
it continues to shed light on the replace process.
Exo capabilities at a basic level refer to an external cover that supports the body and is
set to protect. Put simply, it is a wearable robot that may enhance a human's natural strength
and endurance, or be used as therapeutic wearable technology for the injured. Future designs
hold the opportunity for super human strength when worn.
This technology is one that overlaps digital information on objects or places in reality
in order to enhance the experience for the user, therefore “augmenting reality with useful
information” (Berryman 2012). Different than virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) includes
physical reality as a primary component of its use. Other necessary components include
displays, to illustrate the supplied digital and real information; input devices, to act as a
pointing device; tracking to assure that digital information is correctly aligned with what the
user is seeing; and computer software to process and manage the demonstration. Obviously an
external device such as a smartphone might not appear to be a direct Transhuman tech based
on the definition used in this paper, but future research anticipates devices that may become
permanent parts of the human body with advances in miniaturization and nanotechnology.
The most recent device that resembles this idea is digital 3D eyewear such as Google Glass.
This futuristic concept is based on the thought that cognitive processing can be put
into effect on substrates other than our biological neurons. Because our minds are defined
more by the pattern of information they represent than the hardware they are implemented on,
other substances besides our current neurons may meet requirements for the configurations of
the pattern. This would require a synthetic neuron equivalent.
Hypothesis: Based on a theory of military offset strategy, Transhumanism will enhance
United States National Security as we enter 20YY”
General George S Patton once said: “The soldier is the army- no army is better than its
soldiers;” alluding to the point that the individual soldier, sailor, or airman is an essential unit
of the military. Likewise, they are expensive investments who become assets to a nation after
training and specialization. So how is altering the human applied to the realm of national
security? One of the most prominent testing subjects for these technologies is in fact a
military soldier. Past research has mostly focused on treating injured soldiers after combat
while current and future science will enable the enhanced soldier to perform duties outside of
their biological limits. It can be argued that, enhancing our soldiers to be more effective and
efficient on the battlefield will in turn bring them higher levels of safety and strength, in turn
leading to a safer nation. Imagine a soldier who is more focused and aware, smarter, with a
better memory. He or she would be stronger, fast-healing, and capable of functioning for days
at a time without food or sleep (Auer 2004, McIntosh 2010). These so called “Super
Soldiers” are considered the future of the military enterprise and national security.
To cite a few Transhuman technologies from the spectrum above, I will expand on two
to highlight the effects they have on soldiers. The first is in regards to exoskeletons, whose
effects are direct and explicit. Military soldiers who constantly endure physical stress have a
high risk rate for injuries, affecting their efficiency and reducing their time in combat. Ekso
Bionics, a private company who designs and produces exo capabilities for medical and
military uses issued a press release in January 2015 confirming their entrance into the second
of four phases of a project called Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). Funded by
the United States Special Operation Command (SOCOM), the project involves “working to
create a wearable uniform, which provides superhuman capabilities with superior mobility
and protection, for their Special Operation Forces” (Ekso 2016). These superior capabilities
include “full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded
sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the
sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and
hemorrhage controls; and more” (Jacobsen 2015).
The second technology is brain-computer interface (BCI), which could convert neural
activity into input for external technological mechanisms such as sensory prosthetics for
therapeutic purposes or exoskeletons that enhance strength and endurance (Tennison &
Moreno 2012). This technological mechanism may also be a communication device;
DARPA's ongoing project “Silent Talk” which will allow soldiers to communicate on the
battlefield through the analysis of neural signals, essentially being able to communicate
telepathically through non-invasive EEG helmets.
DARPA's Cognitive Technology Threat Warning system has also created BCI
controlled hi-resolution binoculars. They act as a threat detection system that scans areas for
threats with high accuracy by reading the user's brainwave patterns, based on what the user
has seen but has not been consciously aware of. This reduces the information processing
stress on the soldier, so that they may focus and respond faster to other areas of interest in
their vision (Kotchetkov 2010).
Future interfaces include strengthening human information-processing capabilities.
This would happen through “the design of interfaces incorporating neuroscience technologies
that enable the interface to adapt in real time to the stress state [cognitive state] of the user”
(National Academic Press, 2009) or what is called information workload management. This
concept is even more relevant since the Department of Defense has moved towards network-
centric warfare, demonstrating the major effects of information technology on military
operations. Our systems are starting to operate faster than human comprehension therefore
“interfaces to deliver information to soldiers in a way that's easier for them to understand”
(Dvorsky, 2014) is necessary.
If transhuman technologies are going to be used as a defense mechanism (i.e. “super
soldiers”) for a nation-state, they could be perceived as a threat by other states, compelling
them to arm as well, leading to a classic security dilemma, where the original actor will have
to maintain its security by increasing its own arms (Jervis 1986). An example of this lies
decades ago in the development of nuclear weapons that led to the realization of mutual
deterrence among super powers. Therefore, mirroring the nuclear age, technological
proliferation may have the same future impacts on the international balance of power.
Coincidentally, “it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that accelerated many of DARPA’s
most radical super-soldier science programs. The revelation that the Soviets had developed an
extensive biological-weapons program caused DARPA to bring biologists into its ranks, and
with the life sciences at the fore, DARPA began to look inside the human body, toward a
scientific capability that could transform soldiers from the inside out” (Jacobsen 2015). As the
United States makes farther strides in the development of enhancement technologies for
defense purposes, it must recognize that adversaries will do the same, especially in the wake
of “global connectedness and the democratization of sophisticated scientific and engineering
skills and capabilities” (Prabhakar, 2016) . Thus, the more advanced our technologies
become, the more strength will lie in our deterrence capabilities, and ability to protect our
population from attack.
Looking into the future where technological singularity is reached, the world will be
“geo-politically destabilized” (Evans 2007) and security competition will change
significantly. The “first-adopters” will have a “significant advantage over others, so long as
they could maintain control over their machines. If they cannot maintain that control, the new
actors will accrue the advantage” (McIntosh 2010). So what will a post-singularity security
competition look like? Based on the evolving “generations of war” strategy, post-singularity
will extend the strategy to a fifth generation. “ First generation war involved line-and-column
tactics between soldiers of the state. The second generation applied machines and indirect fire,
third-generation war involved industrialized mass armies, and the fourth generation involves
political-economic struggles among networks. If past war has centered on an enemy's physical
strength, and fourth-generation war on his moral strength, a fifth generation of war might
focus on breaking his intellectual strength. It would require even more deception, and out-
thinking of an opponent, than has been seen before. It would be most successful, in fact, if the
target did not even realize it was taking place” (McIntosh 2010).
Strengthen human security
So far, I have been discussing Transhuman technologies in terms of military forces.
But as previously stated, national security is expanding to a much broader definition, one in
which could include the seven human security threats, defined by the United Nations
Development Program's Human Development Report (1994, Appendix B). Because many of
these enhancement technologies are considered dual-use, meaning designed or suitable for
both civilian and military purposes, they will affect the general population as well.
As we have witnessed with past technologies like the Internet, dual-use technologies
will eventually trickle down from military to civilian access as well (if they haven't already),
although in different forms for different uses. A perfect example of a dual use enhancement
technology is the exoskeleton: A construction worker and a military soldier both have in
common the physical stress, which is why Ekso Bionics has released its latest suit to help
those who “lift and use heavy power tools for long stretches of time by literally taking the
weight off their backs...the suit is designed to transfer objects' weight to the ground via
stabilizing joints on the wearer's sides” (TIME 2016). The company's CEO Nathan Harding,
claims “the industrial device goes back to our roots in the military, because it uses a strategy
we discovered working on military exoskeletons” (TIME 2016). They've recently also
received the first FDA clearance for an exoskeleton model for use with stroke and spinal cord
injuries. This example applies to several human security factions including economic, health,
personal and community security. Vaguely put, empowering the disabled will likely enhance
their social, political, and economic position within mainstream society. Even if the
exoskeleton is used for pure enhancement purposes, an individual may also have a tighter grip
on their health, work longer for more economic benefits, have more strength for personal
The ethical issues that arise with modifying a body are vast. Some consider it
cheating, being rewarded for no input of effort, abandoning what it means to be “authentic”
human beings. The term to identify this group of individuals is “bioconservatives,” those who
oppose speeding up evolution with technology. Many bioconvervatives such as George
Fukuyama, Lori Andrews, and Rosario Isasi, will go as far as calling transhumanism a crime
against humanity. In his famous 2009 Foreign Policy article, George Fukuyama, a leading
bioconservative, outlined his concerns that these enhancements are “tempting offerings
without realizing that they come at a frightful moral cost” (Fukuyama 2009). These moral
costs include playing with god and messing with nature, and tampering with human essence.
Ethical issues may also come in the form of individuals who abuse the power that
comes with transhuman technologies with violence. At an extreme end, technological
violence could lead to genocide, and ultimately stamping species altering technologies as
weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists (Bostrom 2005, McIntosh 2010). Also
important is that in an era where humans and post-humans live together, normal humans may
be labeled as inferior and “less-than,” unable to defend themselves and potentially leading to
violence between the two groups for survival.
The potential harm between humans and post-humans could ultimately lead to
coercion in the name of individual safety and self-defense. But as the civilian population
begins to use enhancement technologies more and more, “individuals may eventually feel
subtly coerced into enhancing themselves in order to remain competitive in school or the
workplace” (Tennison & Moreno 2012) as well. We can already see this at the university
level among students taking pharmacological agents for cognitive enhancement in
competition with their peers or athletes who use drugs to increase their strength and stamina.
This pressure may not leave many with a practical alternative; for example, the motto for the
Defense Sciences Office of DARPA was “be all that you can be, and a lot more” (Spezio,
2011). “At one time, the marketing slogan of the U.S. Army was 'be all that you can be. In the
future it may become 'be more than you could be'” (McIntosh 2010).
Stemming from the ethical counterargument, an increase in social inequality is also on
the list of concerns for those who oppose transhumanism. The essence of political liberalism
is that all humans have inherent value and a human essence beyond our differences that bring
about the idea of equal rights. “If we start transforming ourselves into something superior,
what rights will these enhanced creatures claim, and what rights will they possess when
compared to those left behind?” (Fukuyama 2009). Many of these technologies will also fall
into the hands of wealthy populations first, meaning it will not affect the whole population at
once but rather in waves. However, a world full of different humans, powerful and weak, rich
and poor, privileged and exploited is not a new concept. There is a silver lining in that
“humans are already unequal in many respects...and political equality has never rested on the
facts of human biology..the law is meant to apply equally to all, no matter how rich or poor,
powerful or powerless, brilliant or stupid, enhanced or unenhanced” (McIntosh 2010).
So what do these ethical concerns mean for national security? I'd like to consider two
key points: the first simply being that domestic imbalance is a homeland issue and therefore a
national security issue. And the second being that ethics in military warfare will change. “Our
ability to 'upgrade' the bodies of soldiers through drugs, implants, and exoskeletons may be
upending the ethical norms of war as we've understood them” (Lin 2012). For example,
torturing the enhanced will pose a real challenge to military forces; how far will we go to
achieve our desired goals? Furthermore, is it possible that enhanced humans could violate
international law, specifically the Biological Weapons Convention, and count as “biological
agents”? As an add-on to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits the use of chemical and
biological weapons, the BWC prohibits the possession as well as development of such
weapons of mass destruction. International law defines a biological weapon as “microbial or
other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, or types and
in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes”
(UN Office For Disarmament Affairs). It is not yet clear if transforming a human's biology
will count as “biological agents” under the law.
The May 2016 issue of “A 21st Century Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy
for America’s National Security,” released by the National Science and Technology Council
confirms the need for a tool upgrade in US national security. It explicitly states:
“The US military is at the cusp of a transformation, with greater use of
autonomous and unmanned systems to increase effectiveness and lower
costs and personnel risks. A number of important areas require increase
research effort for security applications, including neuroscience,
modeling of human behavior, and synthetic biology. Technology can also
be used to make basic and operational training more effective and
efficient, as well as to augment human cognitive and physical
-National Science and Technology Council, 2016
This assessment is a clear illustration that the realm of national security is headed for a very
unprecedented future of emerging threats and opportunities. I conclude by recommending to
those in the national security arena to support and encourage the work being done now and in
the future of Transhuman technologies. Future action suggested is as follows:
The most crucial player in this field is Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) (Appendix C), whose “core mission is to make pivotal early investments in
breakthrough technologies for national security” (Prabhakar 2016). It has been exploring
many of these technological endeavors since the creation of their Defense Sciences Office
(DSO) in 1999 with Michael Goldenblatt as president, who became a “pioneer in military-
based transhumanism” and “saw the super-soldier as imperative to 21st century warfare”
(Jacobsen 2015). 15 years later, DARPA expanded and opened their Biological Technology
Office (BT0). BTO is “responsible for all neurotechnology, human-machine interface, human
performance, infectious disease, and synthetic biology programs within the agency”
(DARPA). DARPA’s success stems from not just its extensive funding, but its ability to
coordinate with innovative research teams all over the country to gain as much intellectual
capital as possible. In terms of numbers, DARPA submits a Presidents Budget Submission for
every fiscal year to use on research, development, test & evaluation. The 2017 budget
proposal requested $2,973,036, the same requested in 2016 but $105 million more than what
was appropriated in 2016 (Appendix D). Current director of DARPA, Arati Prabhakar
delivered a speech before the Armed Services Committee in April 2016, reviewing the 2017
fiscal year budget authorization. His speech made many points, all of which solidify many of
the arguments made in this article, such as iterative technology, offset strategy, and
deterrence, in order to encourage the approval of an investment so large. Specifically, he
“The Department has embarked on an important shift in recent years
to reenergize its ability to invent, experiment with and operationalize
advanced military capabilities that will be critical to deter and if
necessary defeat the emerging great powers of this century...While
previous offsets had as their goal bursts of accelerated technological
progress to provide comfortable, multi-decadal leads over our
adversaries, it is unlikely the United States will again enjoy such
monopolies on advanced technologies... That means that rather than
striving for a temporary, static advantage for a period of years, the
Third Offset must deliver immediate advantages with built-in
evolutionary capacities and a portfolio of more fundamental, enabling
technologies that can support a long-term succession of iterative
advances and assurance of ongoing momentum and pace.
- Director Arati Prabhakar, 2016
But although DARPA's budget funding request has increased, the overarching DoD's
Science and Technology budget request has decreased by 4.1%. Under this umbrella, the
Army and Navy have been hit with large cuts due to scarce funding (Appendix E). Any
budget cut under Science and Technology is unwelcome, but the decision to request an
increase in funds for DARPA is one I stand by and fully support.
A different kind of investment example is the Obama BRAIN (Brain Research through
Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, explained in his 2013 State of the Union
address. It has accelerated research towards ambitious but achievable goals in revolutionizing
our understanding of the human brain. President Obama’s major lead in this investment is one
that should be followed in all Transhuman fields.
“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the
best ideas…. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome
returned $140 million to our economy…Today, our scientists are
mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s…Now
is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and
innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and
development not seen since the height of the Space Race”
-President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union
2) Academic leadership
The entanglement between technology and US strategy in the age of fast-paced,
exponential growth “leads to military implications which are not deeply understood and
become subjects of extensive studies and debates” (Onuta 2015). This means academia is a
key part in exploring the ramifications of these technologies, as well as helping to decreasing
the failure rate to below a certain risk limit so that it may be suitable to be used as national
An example of this leadership includes Dr. Dustin Slivka of the University of
Nebraska-Omaha, who has secured funding from the Department of Defense, National
Institute of Health and NASA to focus his research on the skeletal muscle and how it responds
to exercise in extreme environments on a cellular-genetic level. Another example includes the
$48 million granted by DARPA in 2012 to the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State
University to lead defense projects.
3) Public- private partnerships
Federal agencies should partner with private institutions and agencies working on
relevant research with the same goal. As mentioned before, SOCOM has teamed up with Ekso
Bionics to develop wearable technology designed to increase soldier strength and endurance.
The company states: “We have yet to imagine all the human robotics applications and remain
committed to forming strategic partnerships for cutting-edge innovation,” (Ekso, 2016)
suggesting their enthusiasm and eagerness for compliance.
4) Transparency / high ethical standards
The emergence of 20YY will represent a fundamental shift in human history that has
high potential to be ruptured by a swarm of laws and restrictions, and essentially delaying
progress in the applicability of technology. An appropriate example of this lies in the Bush
administration’s federal ban of funding for human stem-cell technology due to ethical issues.
The conservative Bush-era Presiednt's Council on Bioethics went so far as to release a report
discussing enhancements, called “Beyond Therapy: Biotehnology and the Pursuit of
Happiness” (October 2003), in defense of human dignity and ethics. Upon it's publication,
DARPA's image was damaged, and their research was forced to shift in less controversial
directions. Rather than calling it “human enhancement,” the focus became “performance
optimization.” This “rhetorical shift from enhancement to optimization was accompanied by a
drawback in the ambition of this research,” (Burnam-Fink 2011) for almost a decade. Now
that it is on once again on the rise, we must find a way where human enhancement can be
talked about in a way that avoids fear-mongering while keeping ethics and transparency at the
top of the priority list. For example: DARPA neuroscience efforts are informed by members
of an independent ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) panel. But DARPA’s national
security oriented route in exploiting new technology is a large target for critics, despite its
relative transparency (Tennison & Moreno 2012). We must remember that “Bifurcating
public science from national security may only drive the same research underground,
undermining its current public accountability” (Moreno 2006, Tennison & Moreno 2012).
In comic books and science fiction stories that much of this resembles , it's possible to
ignore or suspend disbelief about these details. But in the real world, the details matter. Many
of these technologies could lead to the doom of all; it is up to us to set the initial foundation
and conditions appropriately to meet ethical and progressive standards; now is the time for
policy makers to discuss enhancements that have the potential to transform every aspect of
society, and how we can move forward in a responsible manner.
Future research into transhuman technologies and national security should involve the
potential role it will play among non-state actors. As scholars such as Baylis (2010) have
observed, “there has been a transition to a 'second nuclear age' in which the fear of vertical
proliferation (within the great powers) has been superseded by concern for 'horizontal
proliferation' to smaller powers and non-state actors” (McIntosh 2010). Unlike nuclear
technology, these new transhuman technologies can be expected to move BEYOND the
control of governments, to smaller groups and individuals. In an age of asymmetrical warfare
against non-state actors and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), this is highly concerning.
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