You’ve heard this story before. Someone living in 1922 would be completely disoriented if they had the opportunity to live one day in 2022. A hundred years may seem like a long time, but in human history it is almost meaningless. I’d imagine our 1922 transplant would be terrorized by self-driving cars, transfixed by virtual reality porn, and confused by Alexa giving her the weather—all pretty mundane aspects of life these days. After all, she was just getting used to the radio, Band-Aids and frozen food – she hadn’t even watched TV yet! How could the next 100 years change the way we live?
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All signs suggest that the transformations in the coming decades will be extraordinary. Fascinating innovations such as gene editing, brain-computer interfaces, and artificial wombs—not to mention advances in sex technology—are likely to have a profound impact on human intimacy.
Consider CRISPR. This extraordinary biotechnology allows scientists to edit genes – literally turning them on or off. Although the stated goals of this technology include curing deafness and cancer, scientists and bioethicists recognize that we will eventually have the ability to rewrite the human genetic code. This means that we will be able to not only treat medical conditions through gene editing, but ultimately genetically enhance people. We will likely struggle throughout our lives with the ethical desirability of making our offspring taller, and ultimately even increasing the chances that our babies will be born with a higher-than-typical IQ or exceptional athletic ability. In fact, even the co-developer of CRISPR admits that these “designer babies” may be “inevitable.” Ethical challenges are inevitable.
But this ability for genetic enhancement will be accompanied by other equally astonishing technological advances. Consider brain-computer interaction or the fusion of human biology with bionic capabilities and/or smart technology. Currently aiming to treat physical and neurological impairments, the possibilities here extend far beyond medical treatment. Advanced humans can elevate our physical and sensory capabilities to levels experienced only by certain animal species—the speed of a cougar or the sight of an owl, for example. If that sounds surreal, check out the video of a monkey in Elon Musk’s Neuralink lab playing a video game with its mind.
Advances in fertility technology are no less astounding. Scientists in the Netherlands expect their artificial wombs to carry human fetuses in less than a decade. And researchers are working to create literal eggs and sperm from human stem cells. If they succeed, people will no longer be limited by the amount of eggs and sperm they have, but will actually be able to create as many genetic offspring as they choose. Also, since a stem cell could theoretically create either eggs or sperm, reproduction would not be limited by gender. These concepts may sound outrageous, but I assure you that the scientific community takes them very, very seriously.
As a sex therapist I wonder. Will CRISPR and brain-computer interaction change who people desire as romantic partners? Perhaps those of us who are not improved will become uninteresting and obsolete. And as sex technology becomes more powerful, perhaps even enhanced human sex partners will feel burdensome—everyone knows that romantic relationships require work that requires energy that we often don’t have. Energy that sex technologies simply do not require of us.
What will all this mean for human intimacy? Really, it’s anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure, it will be impactful. I started this blog to explore the ways in which increasingly advanced sex technologies will affect human intimacy. But the question I find even more fascinating is how the combined influence of sex technology and these other cutting edge technologies will affect the future of humanity?
It’s time to take this speculation seriously and move this discussion forward. Exploring and discussing these possibilities will undoubtedly help our posterity reap the benefits and mitigate the risks inherent in what the future holds.
I have no doubt about one thing – we are in the process of birthing a new intimacy.