Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bionic Man arrives in D.C.




"It's DNA that makes us human."

That is what one student told me during our recent discussion on transhumanism.   But what if you could create human DNA?  What if life becomes a canvas where you could creatively manipulate its structures and purposes to your benefit?  After all, it seems we can synthetically reproduce just about everything else.

The "Bionic Man" is evidence of that.  It is a walking, talking "human" built entirely of cybernetic parts and artificial organs.  It is now on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. 

"This is not a gimmick. This is a real science development," museum director John Dailey said.

And yes, the exhibit was named after the TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man from the late 1970s.  And yes, I was a big fan.  "We can rebuild him.  We have the technology."

The whole project is coordinated by Bertolt Meyer, a cyberneticist who himself has a bionic hand.  Everything on this model, all one million dollars worth of its 28 artificial body parts, is a reality of biotech.  This includes, amazingly enough, an artificial pancreas, lungs, spleen, and even circulatory system.  I'd be surprised if I hadn't blogged about it before.  It is of course worth mentioning that these are all prototypes and one could not simply "plug and play" such transhuman apparatuses into their own body.  Yet.

It will also take time for most people to be at home with this sort of biotechnology.  One tourist put it this way upon seeing the Bionic Man:  "It, kind of, looks lifelike. Kind of creepy."  My students' initial reactions seem to echo much the same falderal (why is it "creepy?")  A few of them were able, however, to hold steadfast to that demarcation point of DNA making the difference between human and machine.

I wonder how much longer they will be able to do that?





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