I was ill the other day, and had to have a couple of days off work. (I'm fine now; thanks for asking!) While I recuperated, I was trying to think what I could do to stave off boredom. I didn't feel up to much, and wasn't really in the mood to commit to a whole film and there was naff all on telly. Then it occurred to me: TED talks! Perfect! They're bite-sized so there's not too much commitment outlaid (this one is 19 minutes long), and they are frequently interesting.
Once I'd watched one, I watched loads, but this was the first one I watched. I love it. I love that he starts with a focus on comfort, and looking at tailoring the actual physical interface between human and prothesis using different materials that are rigid and flexible in appropriate places.
Have a watch. The work this man is talking about and doing with limb replacement is state of the art and it's amazing!
The merging of technology and biology has long fascinated me and terrified me.
Fascinated me because I think it's awesome that technology is advancing to this point. The TED video above shows guys with no natural legs rock climbing, running up scraggy hills, and a girl with one leg dancing! To be able to give these people back their mobility is incredible and actually brought a tear to my eye on a couple of occasions during the talk.
I've always been fascinated by the application for this for non-disabled people. For them to be able to augment themselves - and this video does touch on that with the exoskeletal units that are being developed to decrease fatigue when walking etc. Wouldn't it be ace to have an exoskeleton that made you stronger? It'd be like something out of the film "Aliens", or countless manga and anime!
Evolution has taken us so far, and now it seems we are in a position where we mold our environment to suit our evolutionary state which feels to me like it might slow down our already almost impercebtible evolution. But now, to get a headstart in the world we have created, we need to be better and this is the part that scares me.
What if your job required you to wear an exoskeleton?
Hugh Herr, the speaker in this video, gets rather patriotic partway through. I'll be honest - the part where he talks about us not being intimidated by acts of violence, while valid, seemed, to me, out of place in this talk. This man, one of the leading minds in bionics, while clearly having one eye on improving the lives of the disabled with his work also seems to have one eye on making sure "our boys" have the biggest stick. Besides a feeling of patriotism I get from him, I also daresay that military applications of his research generate the most funding.
The US sends their soldiers out with exosuits, soon the enemies start using them too. Now I'm extrapolating wildly here, but is it plausible that the technology in Herr's legs soon gets to the point where soldiers with these bionics instead of natural legs actually have the advantage in the battlefield? Stronger, faster, more tireless, more durable than real legs, and yet just as responsive? The army naturally want the best soldiers defending their country so the entry requirement for the military include you having to have the latest model bionic legs.
What if your job required you to have a bionic leg?
This filters down to civilian life soon enough. "You only have a natural eye? You don't have the heads up display we need you have to view the files we'll download to it? Sorry, but we can't employ you in our office."
No neural access to the internet? No research job for you.
No bionic arms? No bricklaying job.
The HR department don't have wireless access to view your emotional state while at work? We can't employ you here.
Would you have a chip implanted in your brain if you were finding yourself unemployable without one?
Would you undergo a surgical procedure to remove your legs and replace them with more efficient bionics if your dream job required it?
Is it safe?
What if you can't afford even the entry level upgrade to remain employable?
What if it were affordable, so there really was no excuse, but you just didn't want to in a world where bionics were increasingly the norm?
Would we have a technocracy? Or a techlogarchy?
I've wanted to write a story based around these ideas for years now - either prose, or graphical, or bits of both. I did produce an image for this story a couple of years ago and wrote a short story I now regrettably can't find, but while I had the ideas for the setting and themes, I didn't have the story I needed to set amongst them.
I'd love to read your thoughts on the matter? Leave a comment below. Are you scared by these advances? Or do you live for the day when they're common-place?