Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"I would replace my right arm with a robotic one"




I keep telling my class on transhumanism that it's bound to happen.

Cybernetics are in many regards inherently superior to biology. We will eventually reach a tipping point where people don't want to wait until they are in a catastrophic accident or have contracted a wasting disease before they replace their given parts with better ones. That is the upshot of Morten Bay's article, "I would replace my right arm with a robotic one" at Vice Motherboard.

Bay states from the outset that his arm hurts. He has tennis elbow and tendonitis. He also points out, quite accurately, that were he a car, his owners would likely have replaced his worn parts by now. Why should human body parts be any different? We ameliorate ourselves with all manner of medications and balms. Why is cybernetic replacement deemed so bizarre? As stated earlier, it seems only logical that if an improvement can be made, someone will do it.

And why wait for the body to break down?

Zoltan Itsvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager and a current candidate for president, describes in the article how he once built a house. It was physically exhausting hauling lumber all over the place. Robotic limbs would have allowed for him to carry far more weight and to do so without getting tired. At all.  "I look forward to the day when I electively get a robotic arm to replace my biological one," says Itsvan.

It is that sort of desire that will eventually become more prevalent. Initial resistance to transhuman improvements may melt away out of necessity. Once someone has a clear, demonstrable advantage due to their enhancements, social and market forces will likely shift the zeitgeist. As Itsvan says, "to remain competitive as an employee, you will have to get upgrades and prosthetics."

Sound unreasonable? Well, we already expect most people to have reliable transportation and computer access in order to be employed. Why would this be any different? Granted, this does raise the issue of the rich-poor divide, a chasm that seems ever-widening, especially in America. That is a legitimate concern and it needs to be addressed. I believe, however, that to be an issue of social and economic policy and somewhat separate from transhumanism.

Then again, perhaps you think this merge with technology isn't already happening. Consider this: do you sleep with your smartphone? Even just because it's your alarm clock? Well how intimate is that? I don't see a way to argue against that as a sign that technology is becoming a part of us. In terms of prosthetic limbs, that's already happening too. The "Luke" arm (named after Luke Skywalker who received a cybernetic hand at the end of The Empire Strikes Back) from DEKA is just one example. Smart appendages that interface directly with the nervous system are well on their way. As these developments continue, as people are more and more able to take control of their bodies and thereby their existence, the human form as it now stands will grow increasingly irrelevant....even obsolete.

I can't say I'm all that sentimental about it.


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