You’ve heard this story before. Someone living in 1922 would be completely disoriented given the opportunity to live a day in 2022. A hundred years may seem like a long time, but in human history they are almost meaningless. I’d guess our 1922 transplant is terrorized by self-driving cars, stunned by virtual reality porn, and confused by Alexa giving her a weather report — all pretty mundane aspects of life today. After all, she was just getting used to the radio, patches, and frozen food—she hadn’t even seen a TV! How might the next 100 years change our life experience?
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All indications are that the transformations over the next few decades will be extraordinary. Fascinating innovations like 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. While the stated goals of this technology include treating deafness and cancer, scientists and bioethicists alike recognize that we will eventually be able to engineer the human genetic code. This means that we will not only be able to treat diseases through gene editing, but ultimately genetically enhance humans. It is likely that in our lifetime we will grapple with the ethical propriety of making our offspring taller, eventually even increasing the likelihood that our babies will be engineered with the likelihood of them having a higher than typical IQ or exceptional athleticism skills are born. In fact, even CRISPR’s co-creator herself acknowledges that these “designer babies” may be “inevitable.” Ethical challenges are inevitable.
But this genetic enhancement ability is accompanied by other equally amazing technological advances. Consider brain-computer interfaces or the merging of human biology with bionic abilities and/or intelligent technologies. Currently geared towards the treatment of physical and neurological disabilities, the possibilities here go far beyond medical treatment. Augmented humans can take our physical and sensory abilities to a level only certain animal species know—the speed of a cougar or the sight of an owl, for example. If that sounds surreal, check out video of a monkey in Elon Musk’s Neuralink lab playing a video game with its mind.
Advances in fertility technology are no less amazing. Scientists in the Netherlands predict their artificial wombs will be carrying human fetuses in less than a decade. And researchers are working to create literal eggs and sperm from human stem cells. If this succeeds, humans will no longer be limited by the amount of eggs and sperm, but will actually be able to produce as many genetic offspring as they wish. Because a stem cell could theoretically produce either eggs or sperm, reproduction is not limited by sex. 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 Interfaces Change Who People Want in Their Romantic Partners? Perhaps those of us who are not improved become uninteresting and outdated. And as sex technology only gets stronger, maybe even enhanced human sex partners will feel like a burden — everyone knows that romantic relationships take work and require energy that we often don’t have. Energy that Sextech just doesn’t ask of us.
What does all this mean for human intimacy? Really, it’s anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure, it will have an impact. I started this blog to explore how ever more advanced sex technology will affect human intimacy. But the question I find even more intriguing is how the combined influence of sex tech 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. Considering and discussing these contingencies will no doubt help our descendants reap the benefits and mitigate the risks that the future holds.
Of one thing I have no doubt – we are about to birth a new intimacy.