21st century innovation has brought the human body far closer to machines than it has ever been before. This is especially due to recent prosthetic development. 3D printed prosthetics embedded with sensor technology bring new life to young children all around the world, while more advanced devices bring proprioceptive sensations back to wearers. Proprioseption is a physiological term for the ability one has to feel their limbs without looking at them, an extremely essential characteristic of all human body parts. This is the second biggest step humans have made in the evolution of cyborgs, or a lifeform that is both human and machine. The first steps were the creation of the Internet and then the birth of social media which have already consumed the human psyche. Now we are on the verge of the body becoming one with machines. As humans once evolved from chimpanzees, will we one day say cyborgs evolved from humans? Humans have followed a track that has led to technology completely consuming our mind and now our body for decades, but our evolution into cyborgs will only be successful with public support and unity.
Rise of the Superhumans
The Beginnings of an Arms Race between Biotechnologists and Bioengineers
If the idea of becoming a population of cyborgs terrifies people, I am afraid they are far too late. Our lives function through screens. Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1990, to the launch of TheFacebook in 2004, and finally the creation of the iPhone in 2007, our lives have increasingly depended on instant information literally in the palm of our hand. It can grant any normal person with more power to contact millions of people than the president had 30 years ago. Humanity and screens are one singular body. Elon Musk constantly reminds the public of this, claiming that through social media we all have a digital copy of ourselves embedded online.
The topics of Musk’s discussion are on a higher intellectual level than the conversations discussed by most of humanity, however, common people think about this as well.
It is comforting to see that different members of society are on the same page, as it is difficult to argue that we are not already cyborgs. We all clearly have a personal connection to technology, and some say they would even “die” without it.
This Facebook post also represents the recent progression humanity has taken towards a future of cyborgs. Nike’s Fuelband and Google Glass connect our appearance and sight to machines, making mind control instituted by The Internet and smart phones old news. It is human nature to never cease development. With our minds, appearances, and certain senses already connected to technology, the next step to evolving into cyborgs must involve our physical body.
The correlation of sensor technology with prosthetic devices brings the human body closer to machines than it has ever been before. A sensor controlled prosthetic device differs from all other technology because it makes real and mechanical parts one unified being. Devices like the iPhone and The Internet overpower the mind but coexist separately with physical human limbs. A prosthetic limb does not function without its user.
This is revolutionary. However, the man in this video cannot feel what he is touching. This is because the tiny electrodes inserted around his shoulder create a one way communication from his brain to the surrounding muscles of the amputated limb, allowing the bionic arm to move but not to sense touch. As humans we need to create the absolute best, and prosthetics that function through “just” mind control are not nearly enough advanced. Humanity could never evolve into cyborgs with this technology, which is why we of course needed to take it a step further.
To progress in the evolution of becoming cyborgs humanity must establish a unity between our entire internal network and sensor technology. Our brain, the center of all thoughts, helps us interpret the world we live in and understand who we are as individuals and together as humanity. Our spinal cord is the main track of communication between the brain and body, and allows us to create, develop, and expand our mark for good and evil. The functionality behind today’s most pioneering sensor prosthetics stems from these components, together known as the central nervous system (CNS).
Coordinating the human neural network with advanced technology begins with the CNS. Neural signals from the CNS travel through a user’s nerves and activate muscles in their residual limb. Artificial electrodes in the activated muscles sense those nerve pulses and small scale computers decipher and convert the vibrations into the brain’s intended movements. This cohesive communication between the CNS and computers brings life to complete cyborg function, and is known as NeuroEmbodied Design (NED). NED fully recreates an amputee’s proprioception, or the ability to feel body parts without physically seeing them with your eyes. This amazing technology will create a bridge from our physical bodies to a synthetic and superhuman universe where our nervous system becomes one with the synthetic world and the synthetic world becomes one with us. Imagine how drastically the world changed when our real personalities became absorbed by synthetic portrayals of ourselves on social media. Now that is occurring with our bodies. This will end disability. This will drastically advance our physical capabilities. This will completely change, or even end humanity.
Hugh Herr, the creator of NED, is an extremely intelligent MIT professor and bionics designer. He is a member of Team Cyborg, an elite group of surgeons, engineers, and scientists assembled at MIT. His great friend, Jim Ewing, horribly fell 50 feet while climbing and Herr did everything in his power to give Jim legs again. Being a genius or having one as a best friend is not the case for every amputee. So how can cyborgs overcome humanity if only the most lucky and intelligent 1% of humans have the opportunity to convert? The answer is it cannot. There needs to be mass appeal, awareness, and most importantly acceptance.
The 3D printing community embodies the success of having those three characteristics. Foundations like e-NABLE have introduced the world to affordable and accessible 3D printed prosthetic limbs. Any person around the world with the ability to use a 3D printer can visit their website and print a prosthetic hand using one of their designs.
E-Nable. 24,671 likes. A global community collaborating to make free 3d-printed prosthetic hands available to all who…
In addition, the kind nature of humanity has touched those who do not have access to a printing device.
3D printed prosthetics improve the lives of children all around the world and create a global network that allows cultures separated by thousands of miles to communicate and unite together. The worldly community established by 3D printed prosthetics resembles humanity’s drive to improve patient quality of life and recreate normalcy for disabled people. The positive discussions and endless activism within the community foreshadow that many people will cheerfully accept the institution of advanced bionic limbs, however, the intentions must be pure. There must at first be a focus around giving new life to those in pain, rather than giving superpowers to those who can pay for it.
All it takes is a computer and a few electrodes to create the sense of touch with these accessible and cheap devices. Although Team Cyborg’s device is far closer to the type of cyborg we all imagine, the picture shown below still creates a being that is part machine and part human. The unity formed between cultures, along with the limitless potential patients, outweigh the simplicity of these devices.
The willingness to aid branches far beyond 3D printed prosthetics, as social media provides a platform for strangers to help each other become cyborgs. On Facebook alone, people are incredibly open to sharing ideas and even supplies to help others develop their own cyborgs. Amazing public discussions form between people of the community simply looking to help or to learn. Inspired by his amputee daughter, a father created the page, “Our kids can do anything”, to document his daughter’s progress in developing into a cyborg. A few years ago he was looking for the best location to place sensors on her arm to form the most solid connection between the prosthetic and his computer. The amount of support was inspiring and this page alone resembles the amount of embrace and awareness for the beneficial outcomes of sensor prosthetics.
The 3D prosthetic and social media communities reveal that we already live in a society that is comfortable with the idea of humans wearing complex technology to help their body perform at an equal or even increased level. In fact, we seem to encourage it. After the technology, public support is the next most essential component to a future of cyborgs.
For the entire history of humankind we have strived to enhance our capabilities and perform at higher and higher levels. We never stop. We always want to be better versions of ourselves. Medical advancements already elongate lifespans, produce happier human beings, and increase overall quality of life. Now, almost all 7.5 billion earthlings constantly interact with and are dependent on electronic devices. Some of the most popular consumer products are wearable technology that continually observe and stimulate one’s every movement. The desire for these smaller trinkets will soon morph into a want for bionic limbs. The price of current products would be far too expensive, however, there is ample evidence to prove that if the market becomes more attractive to the common human the devices will soar.
It is only a matter of time before these technologies arrive, so the true question that needs to be asked is how will humanity deal with it? We live in an extremely competitive world, so it is almost certain that people will utilize these prosthetics for personal gain, even if they are a completely healthy human being. People could become obsessed with the idea of upgrading their bodies to extents now thought of as impossible. They could turn into the movie characters they have only dreamt of becoming.
Will the emergence of bionic devices inspire people to help the weak or will the divide between economic classes grow more profound? This will be answered when the technology is polished, and humanity’s natural drive will force its way to the end of that path. How much do you value being human? Your mind has already accepted defeat against technology, will your body?