Robotic Arms And The Future Of Human Augmentation

Posted by on November 8, 2012
Last Updated: July 16, 2017

Nigel Auckland may have lost his arm a few years ago, but today he’s making history with an experimental robotic limb that he can manipulate using muscle twitches.

“I feel like the Terminator.” – Nigel Auckland

It’s called the bebionic3 myoelectric hand, and it’s pre-programmed with various movements; the robotic arm isn’t hooked into his brain or anything. But it’s very precise, even allowing Auckland to tie his shoes.

This new technology is fascinating, and it’s only the beginning of what’s to come.

But is there a dark side?

A joint project between the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, and the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain recently tackled this very issue.

Their conclusion? While technologies such as the robotic hand above will no doubt assist amputees and people with other disabilities, it’s possible that future human-enhancing technologies may do more harm than good, particularly in the workplace.

Human augmentation — that is, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, cybernetics, and other augmenting technologies — may set a negative precedent.

Employers may require employees to perform these augmentations. Competition may drive further augmentation, sparking a kind of arms race. A greater divide may form between those who augment themselves and those who choose not to. And, of course, there are health risks involved.

It’s a complicated issue, and we’re only just confronting it. As new technologies continue to develop — as we witness science fiction become our reality — we’re going to have a lot to think about.

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About the Author Post by Rob Schwarz Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.
  • I’ve thought about this worry as well! Similar to the premise of Gattaca; once the enhancements become commonplace, they become the standard everyone has to do.

    We can see it today with professional sports and actors and actresses; almost everyone is on HGH or some form of steroids, and it works really well so there’s not much reason NOT to. You have to also use them to compete!

    Every actor known for their body uses ’em, and most athletes show tell tale signs of being on them (along with better training knowledge in general compared to the past)… it becomes “just what ya do”.

    • Rob Schwarz

      It’s like in that movie Surrogate, when Bruce Willis heads out into the world without his robot body. Not only is he at a competitive disadvantage; he’s vulnerable, because everyone around him (while they look human) is made of metal. It’s dangerous.

      I’m not sure just how extreme things will get with this stuff, but I do wonder how people resistant to these kinds of “enhancements” will react, and even fit in, in a cybernetic world.

      Thanks for the comment, David.

      (And now I have to go watch Gattaca!)

  • Cory

    The thing is I am a believer that the youth will embrace this as we have with mobiles and such I’m a youth myself and I can’t see it taking with many in my generation but my children will or if not the gen after as we all know we get pressured into fitting in and that’s why all tech will take might take time but it will