Technology: Improving The Human Condition – Linda Safarik

Technology has become increasingly more adaptive to the way we live and is significantly improving the human condition. Now more than ever, technology is helping us become more connected as a species by increasing our communication speed and altering the way we interact. Wearable technology has the capabilities to help us surpass the weaknesses and limitations in our human body. We are increasingly reliant on our digital devices to the point where every aspect of our lives has become interlaced with technology therefore it is becoming an extension of who we are; blurring the line between man and machine (The Creators Project 2014).

In 2010, the telecommunications entrepreneur, Tan Le, came to TED Global to talk about her new wearable computer interface in the form of a headset that can read a user’s brainwaves, making it possible to control virtual objects and even physical electronics by only using thoughts. Prior to this, communication with machines was always limited to conscious and direct forms and in order for a machine to do something for us, we were required to give a series of commands to the computer (Le 2010). The device that Tan Le (2010) presented, could interpret and map the signals produced by your brain to understand your instructions and could also respond to your facial expressions and emotional experiences. The significance of this is that there are many potential applications for such a new interface; virtual reality and gaming would be transformed into a more sensory experience and real life applications such as being able to control household appliances with thoughts, or being able to control an electric wheelchair without any physical controls. In this way technology has become more seamless and effortless for us to coexist with (Le 2010).

Technology is increasingly improving the human condition in ways it previously could not due to technological advancements in robotics, such as soft exosuits. Harvard Biodesign Lab (2014) is developing soft wearable robots that can augment abilities of healthy candidates, such as improving walking or running, in addition with assisting physically disabled individuals who suffer from muscle weaknesses or have neurological disorders, to restore mobility. In September 2014, Harvard Biodesign Lab granted by the Defense Advanced Research project DARPA $2.9 million to further develop their next generation, Soft Exosuit (Kusek, 2014). The product is unlike anything currently on the market, as the suit is flexible, extremely light and is capable to be worn underneath regular clothing. The suit works in unison with the wearer and enhances their quality of living (Asbeck et al. 2013).

We have seen how technology can improve the efficiency of living through robotic wearable devices, such as headsets that are controlled by thoughts and suits that improve mobility but there has also been a strong growth in transhumanist technologies such as artificial implants, the most controversial of these being artificial heart transplants which could revolutionise medicine and health. In September 2014, Carmat, led by the specialist Dr. Alain Carpentier, was able to successfully transplant a robotic heart into a patient in France without any complications (Istvan 2014). The idea of installing an artificial heart into the human body blurs the line between man and machine, essentially bringing us closer to becoming cyborgs. In the future, artificial hearts will not only pump blood but will have computer chips and Wi-Fi capabilities that are in built allowing us to control our hearts with our digital devices and monitor health daily (Istvan 2014). Does this leave us exposed to being hacked in the future? Viruses could be uploaded directly into your heart, people may be able to find ways to gain access to you then manipulate and control you; imagine the implications of what an authoritarian government could do with this power (Hauptman & Sharan 2013).

Dmitry Itskov is a Russian billionaire that believes in the future we will be able to directly transfer our consciousness into an android body and has even gone ahead and registered his own political party in Russia, Evolution 2045 (Eordogh 2013). He believes that by transferring the mind into an android body or an avatar, we will be able to surpass illnesses, diseases and even death, giving us the opportunity to become immortal (Eordogh 2013). This would become the next step in human evolution because we would finally overcome our limitations as human beings and be free from suffering. Even though this is still in the concept and development stage, Dmitry Itskov (2013) believes that this is a plausible due to the capabilities technology already has today and I believe he has a point, as artificial transplants, like the robotic heart, are already available on the market. The notion of transhumanism is already coming into effect and there are many ethical and moral concerns surrounding this. If we were to transfer our mind into an android avatar then are we still human?

REFERENCE

Asbeck, A., Dyer, R., Larusson A., Walsh, C. 2013, Biologically-Inspired Soft Exosuit, IEEE International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics (ICORR), 978-1-4673-6024-1/13, University of Washington, viewed 3 October 2014, http://biodesign.seas.harvard.edu/files/biodesignlab/files/2013_-_asbeck_-_biologically-inspired_soft_exosuit.pdf.

Eordogh, F. 2013, Dmitry Itskov’s Immortal Robots Hit the Big Stage, in Name Only, Motherboard, Vice Media Inc., viewed on 3 October 2014, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/dmitry-itskovs-immortal-robots-hit-the-big-stage-in-name-only?trk_source=recommended.

Eordogh, F. 2013, Russian Billionaire Dmitry Itskov Plans on Becoming Immortal by 2045, Motherboard, Vice Media Inc., viewed on 3 October 2014, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/dmitry-itskovs-immortal-robots-hit-the-big-stage-in-name-only?trk_source=recommended.

Harvard Biodesign Lab, 2014. Soft Exosuits, Hansjorg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, viewed on 3 October 2014, http://biodesign.seas.harvard.edu/soft-exosuits.

Hauptman, A., Sharan, Y. 2013, “Foresight of evolving security threats posed by emerging technologies”, foresight, Vol. 15 Iss: 5, pp.375 – 391.

Istvan, Z. 2014, The Era of Artificial Hearts Has Begun, Motherboard, Vice Media Inc., viewed on 3 October 2014, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/era-artificial-heart-permanent-transplants.

Itskov, D. 2013,  Dmitry Itskov on the Philosophy of Immortality, video recording, Motherboard, YouTube, viewed on 3 October 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyJjGxZs4l8.

Kusek, K. 2014, The $3 million suit: Wyss Institute wins DARPA grant to further develop its Soft Exosuit, Harvard

Gazette, viewed on 3 October 2014, http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/09/the-3-million-suit/.

Le, T. 2010, A headset that reads your brainwaves, video recording, TED, viewed 3 October 2014, http://www.ted.com/talks/tan_le_a_headset_that_reads_your_brainwaves?language=en.

The Creators Project, 2014. Make It Wearable | Episode 4: Becoming Superhuman, video recording, YouTube, viewed 3 October 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyx0SwNlpPw.

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