Robotic Arms And The Future Of Human Augmentation

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.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.