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Human augmentation: we can, but should we?

by • August 7, 2016 • No Comments


We’ve seen and read so many stories of how 3D printing has assisted countless folks in require when utilized for human augmentation. From heartwarming stories like Mir, the 5 year old in Pakistan, to assisting Paralympic athletes complete greatness. But with all of these awe-inspiring advancements, can we go too far? Human augmentation has been around for longer than many folks realize, with things like pacemakers, cochlear implants and plastic surgery becoming tedious in our own lifetimes. The suggestions of additional enhancing ourselves with apparatuses that assist us hear colors, or implanting chips in our hands to open doors, seem like unnecessary science fiction additions to our fully functioning bodies. But what takes place when these things become tedious? Where can we go of there? The fear of these emerging technologies becoming weaponized is not an idle one, with anime and science fiction providing the material for our imaginations.

Kingsman, showing weaponized human augmentation

A shot of Kingsman: The Secret Service

Until this takes place all we can do is talk and debate of what the next holds.

Human by Design was held at the Paley Center for Media in New York on the 3rd of August to talk of human augmentation, and where it is heading. The conference brought together top minds to debate, question, and challenge what it means to be human; and to turn it into an Ethical Framework that can assist as a way forward for augmentation guidelines.


Open Bionics and Deus Ex

One big tick in the positive field on the ethical debate is 3D printing, and how it has high end these technologies. 3D printing has assisted in the augmentation field greatly, with printed limbs going to many folks in require of them. Companies like Open Bionics are assisting day to day amputees acquire access to previously unobtainable-bodied limbs. By via 3D printing to reduce costs, and building their creations freely on the market online, they are providing a assisting hand to countless folks across the world.

At Human by Design, panelists Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, Joel Gibbard and Cathrine Disney spoke of the art in the video game Deus Ex, and how it led to extraordinary prosthetic creations. The talkfocuses on the beauty of prosthetics, and how the perception of them has shifted. In the past, folks coming home of war, for example, who had lost limbs may cover up their clunky wooden or plastic replacements, not wanting the world to see what replaced that that was lost. Now, it is not just of reproducing what was lost (or for a few, that that nat any time existed) and hiding it under a sleeve. It is of creating a piece of art, a fewthing attractive you can show off to the world.

Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, who works as the executive art director for the Deus Ex franchise said “We just spent years drawing and 3D modelling prosthetics for a fictional universe, [and now we are] having them created functional by Open Bionics for folks that really require them.”

On the create for the game itself, Jacques-Belletête said “We put so much energy in inventing these things, that a few folks started considering that this was what we created for real. People thought we were a cybernetics company, that was really weird.”


Cathrine Disney enjoys a few noodles. Source: @openbionics twitter

Open Bionics

Joel Gibbard, CEO of Open Bionics, is responsible for delivering the game’s creations to life. No stranger to acquireing inspiration of video games, Gibbard was interested in functional prosthetics of the age of 17. He co-founded Open Bionics after leaving university, with the goal of being able-bodied to contribute inexpensive
-bodied bionics.

“We didn’t want to just solve the problem of affordaptitude, we thought well if we are going to reinvent this innovation, and perhaps in fact reinvent this industry, why don’t we take a step back and find out what folks in fact want.”

As he found out, no one had at any time asked the folks wearing prosthetics what they had wanted preceding. The prosthetics that existed preceding were purely medical, take oning to replicate human limbs as most as possible. These frequently come off as ugly and off putting, creepy and frequently non-functional. Gibbard found that what folks in fact wanted, was a fewthing cosmetic. He likened getting a new limb to buying a new pair of shoes. Finding a fewthing that fits well, is effortless-bodied, is functional, and appears great.

#HumanxDesign has all of the cyborgs. Steve Mann & @CathrineDisney comparing hardware. pic.twitter.com/APJiDPbSAp

— Open Bionics (@openbionics) August 3, 2016

.@CathrineDisney was born without a hand. Now she’s wearing a #3Dprinted#bionic arm! #HumanxDesignpic.twitter.com/4pbPDPgk0s

— Open Bionics (@openbionics) August 3, 2016

“I feel like I have really a difficult relationship with prosthetics and the thought of human augmentation since I was born without my arm, pretty than having lost it. I’ve lived a pretty normal life. I can do anything a man with two hands can do, I’ve just got a slightly various way of doing things” commented Cathrine Disney, interdisciplinary createer, researcher, curator and material innovator.

She describes her initially experience with prosthetics as traumatic and invasive, she was just 4 or 5 years old when she had her initially one fitted. The traditional prosthetics that are yet contributeed by health care providers are “not just offensively ugly in their poor take on to mimic human hands, but they’re quite heavy and clunky and ultimately useless”.

The @openbionics team talks of prosthetics and how they are changing the next of augmentations #HumanXDesignpic.twitter.com/BR4Yml90Ix

— Deus Ex (@DeusEx) August 3, 2016

As an adult, Disney was intrigued to see how far innovation had come and so agreed to work with Open Bionics. She wanted to see how useful having a bionic hand may be for her, after living her whole life prosthetic free. With the various color, texture and shape options for your new body part, Disney felt that the aptitude to select is what changed her mind on the subject.

“This is my body and I want to wear a fewthing that I feel proud of and that I want to show off. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide or be insecure for the reason I don’t appear like at any timeybody else….aesthetically these prosthetics just exceed at any timeything else that is on contribute through standard means.”

Disney may like the innovation to advance additional, with greater dexterity and additional ways of controlling the limb as well as sense feedback. It is not just of how it appears and feels, these prosthetics can contribute wearers emotional value as well.

Bionic wave at #HumanxDesign of @CathrineDisney. The @DeusEx Titan arm. #amputeespic.twitter.com/z0OTel3h1g

— Open Bionics (@openbionics) August 3, 2016

The entire conference can be seen on Twitch, the Open Bionics talk begins at 2:18:00. The rest of the sin fact hour conference is an interesting watch, with many difficult issues being delved into. On the ethics of the next of human augmentation, a framework has been presented and can be saw here. But the debate continues. And it is not just a question of we can, but should we? We can, how can we not? But how far can we go?


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