Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pretty Pictures with Words: If (when) we create (and augment) life? Part 2

In a previous post, I waxed romantic about the possibility of humans both creating life and having some limited control over our own evolutionary future.  In the time since we have seen a double amputee, complete with state-of-the-art artificial limbs, compete as against more physically typical athletes in sport.  While this was surely a triumph for Mr. Pistorius and the creators of his incredibly blade legs, it also signaled the first salvo in what will surely become a theme as we move forward as a species: automatic prejudice towards that which is different from our everyday experience.

A turning point in human history.
Human beings are simply afraid of what is different, of change and especially of something that could possibly change us on a fundamental evolutionary level.  While Pistorius, the augmented man, was an amazing story of personal victories - his augmentations are purely physical - there is no direct connection or interaction with the brain.  He isn't a robot or an android - that's not possible, right?

Well... it just might be.  Seriously.

While giving the capability to those that are disabled (paralysis especially) to physically manipulate their world using their brains (as any human would) to move their new 'bodies' is an incredible discovery and finding of science (and a tribute to human ingenuity), the mind reels at the prospects of what this could mean in the future.  What could these technologies do for humans with typical physical and mental states?  Add to that the fact that we are closing in on fusing nerves with the robotic limbs, so you could feel the mechanical parts interacting with the world.

We are a paranoid bunch of primates
Some have suggested that brain plasticity may one day allow for humans (particularly children) to learn how to not only control augmentations to limbs they have - but to learn how use an manipulate more limbs that humans are naturally born with.  This is is some Doc-Ock schtuff goin on here.  What does it mean, assuming we are able to ever perfect the technologies/assumptions of:
  • Brain to mechanical interfaces
  • Fusing nerves to said interfaces
  • Neuroplasticity works how we understand?
It very well could mean that within a generation of said perfection, the human race (or at least significant segments of the race) will look and operate so differently from us, that to call them just 'human' may be a misnomer.  The questions become (in a very real way), what is it to be human - and how will we, as a race and global society, cope with the idea of augmenting and changing the biology of the human body with technology?

This isn't likely to happen
Seeing how a man with carbon fiber legs that are not truly robotic stirred up a decent amount of controversy and our propensity to assume the worst outcome possible, I doubt it will be pretty, graceful or perfect.  People will likely kill and maim to stop this - but in my opinion it is our destiny as a species to either take this path and continue down the evolutionary trail or to simply be completely forgotten by the cosmos for our own fear of progress and our devotion to dead ideas, gods and old men.

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