The age of cyborgs

Humans have a long history of enhancing their bodies with technology, either by replacing broken parts (like amputated legs with wooden legs) or by adding new ones (pretty much all clothes and types of armor). It just comes naturally with using tools to extend one’s reach and usefulness.

Today we do all kinds of transplants and use more sophisticated replacements. New tools and body parts arrive in increasingly rapid succession. Tomorrow’s (as in 5-10 years) laptop might be a ubiquitous device, residing outside as well as inside our bodies. But technological advances come in all fields, so it won’t just be about computers. New drugs, interfaces, clothes etc are being developed. There are already some (crude) devices available that you can use to send commands from your brain to your computer without moving any muscles in the process.

However, the increasing rate of advances will make the overall progress very noticeable – and very frightening to many people. There’s only so much change that adult humans can accept, and that acceptance further lessens with age. Add to that some irrational people, alarmists and professional fearmongers and you’ve got one big noisy group of Luddites who will be fiercely condemning one generation of technology while happily using the preceding one.

There are some areas where new methods of self-enhancement will emerge first, just to be adopted by the general public a short time later. Those areas will share a very high competitiveness, like sports. Already there’s a lot of doping going on, with a perpetual arms race between detectors and producers. Then there are things like high-tech swimsuits which are responsible for most of the new world records in swimming since 2008 (though soon to be banned from competitions). All these enhancements are being criticized for moving the focus from the talent and training of the athletes to just using the best drug or gear. Today, that’s still a valid issue and there still are ways to ensure that as an athlete, all you need to win is talent and determination. And good health. And the right genes. And some scientists armed with cameras, computers and other machines to help you develop an optimal technique. …the point is that times change, and soon we will have drugs and machines which will make us a lot stronger than anyone before us, and the only thing that really matters are side-effects. If there was a drug that made you fitter but did not do you any harm, wouldn’t you take it? If there was a way to reduce the amount of sleep you need to an hour per night or less, or if there was something that helped you concentrate… I for one would gladly use any such thing as long as it does not have any negative effects – or at least only ones that are outweighed by the positive ones.

Actually, you don’t really have much of a choice. Just like you wouldn’t leave bad eyesight uncorrected (with glasses, lenses or surgery), you will soon encounter the need to enhance to stay up to date, or the properties of your body which you now think are normal will soon be treated as deficiencies. Today you need good sight because you need to read all the time – but what if in the future you can’t spend 8 hours a night lying in bed while alternately being unconscious and hallucinating? I’m not trying to paint this as a tragedy just like I don’t think that extreme competition will be great for the individual. But it will be one of your bigger concerns during the next 20 to 30 years, so you’ll better learn to deal with it. And after that – at least from what I’ve read so far about current developments and extrapolations – all bets are off anyway.

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