Transhumanism and genetic super soldiers

According to Alexander Sergeyev, Head of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, the country plans to develop ‘genetic passports’ for military personnel. If nations are creating super soldiers, can this technology be adopted by insurgents or terrorist groups?

Background  

With the rapidly advancing field of genomics and gene modification, a very real possibility arises, that these technologies could be applied to enhance a soldier’s physical capacity.  

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), gene doping is the therapeutic use of genes, genetic elements, and cells that can improve athletic performance. This technology was initially developed for the treatment of disease and can be adapted to enhance physical performance. Science has illuminated several key areas to increase physical performance through gene doping. These include endurance, strength, pain tolerance, improved energy levels and enhanced vascularity.

In the US, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Pentagon’s R&D department, best known for the creation of the internet - has been researching into “man-computer symbiosis” and a classified program of experiments in mind control that was code-named Project Pandora. Human enhancement has become the agency’s priority. Similarly, militaries around the world today are working on technology that enhances the biological capacity of the human soldier. 

The value of the global genome editing market is expected to increase to $6.28 billion in 2022. 

Analysis 

The Russian military will be assigning soldiers based on their ‘genetic passports’.  This will help the military to determine who may be more disposed to become a paratrooper or a tankman. The program also involves the Kirov Military Medical Academy, which conducts research in military medical services. 

Speaking ahead of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Alexander Sergeyev said that "the most important and interesting project considered by representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Military Academy, is the so-called Genetic Passport of a soldier. The project is far-reaching, scientific, fundamental. Its essence is to find such genetic predispositions among military personnel, which will allow them to be properly oriented according to military specialities." 

In March, Russia's President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on that called for “implementation of genetic certification of the population, taking into account the legal framework for the protection of data on the personal human genome and the formation of the genetic profile of the population… for the period up to 2025," which introduced the concept of genetic passports for all citizens. It was reported that this was a part of the state management system aimed at protecting the country’s people and environment from the negative impact of dangerous chemical and biological factors, creating and developing methods to monitor chemical and biological risks, as well as at boosting bilateral and international cooperation in the area of chemical and biological security. 

The project involves not only the assessment of the physiological state, but also the prediction of human behaviour in stressful, critical situations that are associated with the military profession. In the same way, there is a nationwide push for China to become a superpower in science and technology. The Chinese phrase for eugenics is you sheng xue (“the science of superior birth”) 

The main concern about gene-editing and its potential danger is the ease of obtaining “CRISPR toolkits for less than $50. Addgene, a nonprofit DNA molecule repository in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has sent “thousands of CRISPR toolkits to researchers in more than 80 countries. China has made over 10,000 requests for CRISPR plasmids (separated DNA molecules) and hundreds of deposits of plasmids in the Addgene repository. Russian researchers work with Addgene, and the nonprofit helps scientists navigate Russian customs. Addgene, to its credit, has numerous safeguards in place to ensure that its products are used for legitimate science. Researchers must show evidence that they are working in academia or other valid research laboratories. Addgene also does not ship to “Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.” 

The U.S military has invested over 65 million USD in developing a software that can be uploaded to the human brain that will not only heighten the senses of the soldier but could make them highly resistant to blindness and paralysis. DARPA is working on advanced robotics, an artificial human brain, next-gen robotic aircraft, advanced prosthetics and self-teaching computers.  

Lawmakers, however, are especially concerned about whether federal money went to a pair of “for-profit companies from China” — WuXi Nextcode Genomics and Shenzhen BGI Technology Company — that have partnered with Huawei, the telecommunications giant that U.S. officials regard as an international platform for Beijing’s spy agencies, to store their data. “[Huawei] is the same company that the U.S. recently charged with conspiring to defraud our nation and stealing trade secrets, among other crimes,” they wrote to Health and Human Services acting inspector general Joanne Chiedi. “WuXi and BGI’s U.S.-based partnerships give them unique access to genomic data, including Americans’ genomic data. Therefore, it is particularly alarming that these two companies have partnered with Huawei.” 

Counterpoint 

One of the main challenges for the creation of super soldiers is the human body with an intractable problem of blood leakage. Doug Weber, neural engineer at University of Pittsburgh said ‘when foreign material is put into the brain, you undergo this process of wounding, bleeding, healing, wounding, bleeding, healing, and whenever blood leaks into the brain compartment, the activity in the cells goes way down, so they become sick, essentially.” More effectively than any fortress, the brain rejects invasion. 

Assessment  

Our assessment is that enhancing the senses to gain a superior advantage suggests weaponry. If it possible for nations to create super soldiers, the same technology lent to an insurgent or terrorist could create super terrorists capable of all kinds of destruction, with none to undertake responsibility.

The use of Methamphetamine made Nazi invaders prototype of super soldiers. We feel that the ISIS followed a similar strategy to use stimulants like amphetamine to exploit the sense of euphoria and fearlessness. We think that in such a case, it is even possible that conventional warfare no longer remains the preferred fighting style of insurgents. This could lead to a situation where the insurgents, unbound by legal or moral obligations, can make guerrilla warfare even more effective against a larger army without such enhancements.   

We feel that one way to counter this would be to have a global regulatory system for genetic modification that could prevent or discourage countries from abusing it.  In changing human biology, we also may be changing the assumptions behind existing laws of war and even human ethics. If so, we need to re-examine the foundations of our social and political institutions, if prevailing norms can't adequately cover new technologies.

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Image Courtesy - US Army photo by SPC. DUSTIN BIVEN

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