Hi, engineers!

In a sense, we already have augmentation technology. Each year prosthetic limbs become more and more like the real thing. The military and research facilities have been performing surgeries on people who have lost arms from IEDs where they move the remaining nerves from the arm and move them to the chest. (In some cases they just use the nerves/muscles already in their chests.) Then they attach a robotic arm onto the shoulder and electrodes to the chest. By moving and flexing their chest muscles, the signals are picked up by the electrodes and control the robotic arm. Also, there have been studies done with electrodes on or right under the skull. There was a paper that just came out recently where they could “play back” the words the subject was hearing. Another had subjects controlling a computer or space invaders video games. Also we have had devices like pacemakers and cochlear implants for years. As far as when a lot of this stuff will be “brought to market” or commonplace – it’s hard to say but the answer is soon. Probably within our lifetime. Definitely before fusion is a viable power source.

As for the ethics, that is going to be up for debate for a long time. On one hand, you are clearly improving quality of life. People that were confined to wheel chairs can run, and people who have only one or no arms can now function with limbs that are quickly approaching the same level as a “normal hand.”

But there can easily be a dark side to this technology. What if in the future robotic augmentation is commonplace and those that cannot make their payments have their arms shut off by insurance companies? What about privacy? Imagine waking up to the alarm in your cochlear implant to “Don’t forget to brush your teeth! -This message brought to you by McDonalds.”

And of course there’s the whole “humanity “ thing. At what point are we augmented to the point we’re not longer human? No one would say some one with a cochlear implant is less of a person but what about a future where augmented people can perform a task much faster than a non-augmented person? Is the non-augmented man less of a person? While maybe both are equally able to appreciate art and beauty, one can perform better in every way. Stronger arms faster legs and AR implants that allow them to make decisions faster and see dangers faster.

What happens when only the rich can afford augmentation and only augmented individuals can get the new jobs? I’m not going to go much farther with that line of speculation, because that would just lead to transhumanism and “the singularity.”

But, like any technology it has the ability to greatly improve our lives and has the potential to destroy them. Advancement and evolution are an imperative. Once we stop growing and developing as a species we die. (Okay, one thing on transhumanism: maybe that’s ok because what comes after us will be better -the next step in evolution.)

We have the power to help those who need help, and I argue that we have a moral requirement to help. To shy away from such developments for fear of playing god or the potential evil is short-sighted and just as dangerous as the potential abuse of that technology.

I’m reminded of the story of the first steam engine. Some German dude invented a steam engine and used it to power a boat. Excited, he piloted his boat up the river to show to the great scientific minds of the time and to begin producing them for all. Along the way, he was stopped by the boating guild that murdered him and sunk his invention to the bottom of the river so that his steam engine wouldn’t put them out of the job. It was decades before the steam engine was reinvented.

Despite the problems that may arise from new technology, we shouldn’t shy away from it. That’s not to say not to ask questions about he ethical use or needed changes to laws. The future is coming whether we like it or not. And it’s going to be okay. (Except for the climate- we screwed that one up.)