Human beings are ingenious creatures.
For all of history we have found ways to create tools that make our lives a great deal easier. These have varied from the first primitive bows to more complex items such as cars. For the most part, these mechanical enhancements have been outside of the “human form,” though some direct bodily modifications have occurred.
I for one was stunned to find the first recorded use of a prosthetic limb appears to have been as early 3,500-1,800 B.C.E. in India after the Queen Vishpla replaced an amputated leg with an iron prosthetic that enabled her to walk. Meanwhile, Marcus Sergius is a 3rd century B.C.E. Roman General Pliny mentions who had his hand severed and “made himself a right Hand of Iron, and he fought with it fastened to his Arm.” However, other than tales, we have little concrete evidence for their early mechanical limbs.
A more recent example is the aptly named Götz of the Iron Hand, a 16th century German knight and mercenary who lost his right arm to cannon fire. He replaced it with a surprisingly sophisticated iron gauntlet capable of holding pens or even shields.
With the exception of wealthy aristocrats, most individuals throughout all of history have been forced to deal with basic sticks and rods as their replacement limbs. The hit in productivity a man with no arms had to endure only a century ago was massive.
Thankfully, that is no longer exactly the case.
We are becoming Terminators
A highly serviceable prosthetic arm can be acquired for as little as $300 in the United States, while cool and colorful 3-D printed ones for children are now running for little more than $50. Furthermore, the more expensive models being developed are truly breathtaking.
The John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s prosthetic limbs are something straight out of science fiction, which give an amputee (even one who lost both arms at the shoulder) a chance of living a normal life. That is assuming you consider having two relatively functional robot arms to be normal.
As prosthetics have been improving, wounded soldiers are now also able to live increasingly normal (cyborg) lives, while growing numbers are even returning to combat. Soon the halls of Valhalla will be teeming with hordes of American cyborgs undoubtedly quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger to no end.
Remarkably, these improvements are no longer solely limited to limbs. Cyborg eyes are allowing individuals to wear eyepatches solely as fashion choices, while cyborg ears are curing individuals from lifelong deafness.
The effectiveness of these machines are likely to continue and they will decrease in costs, while they will eventually actually surpass the capabilities of a “normal” human today.
I, as an individual afflicted with dreadful nearsightedness, gladly would surrender my own eyes to being carved open and replaced with those of an eagle. Preferably, an eagle without nearsightedness.
Additionally, pacemakers are already regulating the hearts of many, effectively turning a large number of seniors into partial cyborgs. Extending lives and human potential is undoubtedly beneficial for all except those eccentrics who are excited by the Malthusian possibilities a la Logan’s Run.
I for one invite these and other thrilling possibilities the future holds in open arms.
The Cyborg Economy
The gains to be had for fixing or strongly assisting the anatomical handicaps of even one person are colossal. To be able to mass produce such devices in order to make them as common as household computers would be tremendous for all of humanity.
This ensuing cyborg economy of bodily enhancements is a fairly unknown and limited market at present. Imaging the future of solely this new industry is fascinating and is something I am surely not fit to speculate upon.
Regardless, this industry would be unimaginable as recent as 150 years ago, and even now, it has not even begun to take hold in the American public at large. It is one of many such industries that in-part refute why those proposing to policy-makers that masses of the employed are at risk of losing their jobs to machines are quite incorrect.
Our Civil War era ancestors could not imagine a home computer in their time in the same manner we cannot imagine similarly game-changing technology 150 years from our own.