The future of prostheses looks cool

Traditionally we tend to think of prostheses as being strictly attributed to the disabled and the impaired. Prostheses get a pretty bad wrap, they are thought of negatively, as a kind of supplement to the ‘natural’ human body – a second best. But there is a new space growing in contemporary society thanks to modern science and technology along with the help of the internet, a space where prosthetics are cool. Contemporary prosthetics and those of the future don’t just mock the ‘natural’ human body – they go beyond the constraints of it potentially making someone….superhuman?

In a pod cast ‘The Internet of Things’ which you can find here, Andreea Borcea talks about, among other things, A foot designed by MIT which adapts to an individual’s gate allowing them to walk ‘seamlessly’ – so to speak. She also mentions DARPA’s touch sensitive artificial prosthetics which are currently being developed (For more cool stuff about linking the body’s nervous system with a prosthetic I recommend that you have a geez at this Ted Talk by Todd Kuiken).

These contemporary technologies not only allow ‘disabled’ people to simulate the ‘natural’ body and ‘normalize’ their body, but they also work to breakdown the distinction between able-bodied and disabled. When a human being who has lost…say their left arm, has theability to do all the same things as another human being thanks to a bionic limb intervention, how can we say they are disabled?? To extend that thought, think about ‘natural’ human legs; they are stuck there, we are unable to change them. Think about someone with one or more prosthetic limbs, they have the potential and opportunity to change and adapt their limbs to suit certain circumstances and situations. Take a look and listen to Hugh Herr for example who has two bionic legs and is the project director for the Powered Ankle-Foot Prosthesis at MIT.

When we think about prosthetics like this, it becomes clear that the future of prosthetic technology will allow people to go beyond the constraints of the ‘organic’ human body. Can we really still label these people as disabled? Will it come to a point where it is fashionable to replace flesh and blood with metal and wires?

7 thoughts on “The future of prostheses looks cool

  1. “Can we really still label these people are disabled?” It might be important to assess how the disabled or impaired ‘feel’ about new technology that’s aimed to assist or solve their problems. Why I bring this up is that some disabled or impaired individuals or groups are perfectly happy the way they are. In fact, there is a large movement of deaf individuals who are against hearing implants. For a more intense and lengthy look at the variety of cases read Andrew Solomon’s novel, Far From the Tree. Solomon’s interest is how an individual’s disability becomes their identity. It taught me to reconsider whether someone is disabled without an arm if they can still do everything “normal”. So my final point is, be careful and empathetic about how these technologies might improve someone’s lives, or even “able-bodied” lives.

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  2. Interesting topic, seeing as the concept of cyborg ties into yours but is being covered by other students, you might want to investigate transhumanism (a subcategory of posthumanism which you might want to look into as well). Transhumanist thinkers basically discuss the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of using such technologies. This article is 2 years old, so you might find more up to date case studies but it an amazing source to start with and introduced me to the documentary – How to build a bionic man. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/16/future-robotics-bionic-limbs-disabled

    Lastly you might want to go all mechanical and technological approach and just investigate how the prosthetics are made and the evolution of this technology overtime. For more about the history (http://www.amputee-coalition.org/resources/a-brief-history-of-prosthetics/) and more on the future (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/the-insane-and-exciting-future-of-the-bionic-body-918868/?no-ist OR http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/189746-the-future-of-permanent-fully-integrated-prosthetic-limbs-and-bionic-implants).

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  3. This could develop as far as to question whether there are machine-enhanced humans or human-enhanced machines. Prostheses may be machine-enhanced humans, to enhanced practicality, efficiency, etc. But have you thought about the study and experiments of human-enhanced machines? There is by Bruce Duncan who explains his study of transferring the human mind to a robot. In terms of preserving human life (such as using prostheses to preserve human lives and the way we live), transferring ours mind to a robot will essentially keep us alive forever (or the lifespan of the robot).

    Bruce uses the robot Bina48 where to transfer a persons mind to the robot, the person is meticulously studied of their habits, the way they move and speak, the way they think; everything. You could call this a Turing Test. I will link the video of his talk, although it has seemed to let down expectations, I would consider researching further into this study for more information.

    The idea itself is very interesting, it’s as though the entire body is a prosthetic to the human mind.

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  4. I looked into Hugh Herr’s story and read an article in the Guardian that looks at how Hugh’s “disability” actually made him more able than before his accident (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/09/disability-amputees-bionics-hugh-herr-super-prostheses). His bionic legs have been created to make mountain climbing easier for humans and he has now completed climbs no one had ever done before. The article makes the comparison to cosmetic surgery. People currently go under the knife to change aspects of their body, so who is to say replacing limbs with biomechanical ones is out of the question? Ed Boyden, a scientist who is studying blindness made a really interesting comment. He said, “We have to go beyond what nature intended, a future where technology and what it is to be human are blurred. A new nature that will give us new bodies and where disability is no more.” With technology advancing as fast as it is I don’t actually think this statement is too unrealistic. I think this topic is really interesting and I look forward to reading more about what you find.

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  5. Your blog touches on a whole heap of important topics, two of the most important themes being transhumanism and posthumanism.

    I’ve heard about a few technologies which people are starting to implement in their bodies such as RFID chips, they’ve been doing this for a few years primarily using the chips as pass cards for doors and what not but people are looking using RFID in a more universal sense, possibly containing your identity and bank info and pretty much all your pass codes in the palm of your hand/ wherever suits. This SMH article by Hannah Francis explores this, http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/chip-implants-beneath-the-skin-bring-a-new-meaning-to-pay-wave-20150528-ghbq71.html.

    Although I realise your focusing on more the prostheses side which is awesome and I definitely look forward to listening to the TED talk and other links. As someone else commented I think you may have to be careful how you phrase it but i think your definitely right in that prosthetics may not only be designed for people in need but it may be a luxury and a benefit to have your limbs/ other body parts replaced with organic parts. I think it may not only become fashionable but entirely practical as we find ways to make our bodies run better and possibly for longer.

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  6. Extending on from your study of the mechanical and technological elements in this area, you might want to look into the potential for prostheses to extend our experimentation with the human body in fashion and art. Aimee Mullins has discussed how she redefines her body and its limitations every day using prostheses, including transforming her body into an artistic muse in ways she previously might not have if she had flesh and bone legs (https://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_prosthetic_aesthetics?language=en). Another project which completely redefines and rejects the bounds of the human body is Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project, where she creates limbs inspired by the cyperpunk and superhero aesthetic, as well as hollow and robotic skeleton inspired prostheses! (http://beautifuldecay.com/2013/11/18/prosthetic-limbs-art-sophie-de-oliveira-baratas-alternative-limb-project/).

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  7. I’m particularly loving this idea of mix and match utility in the cyborg, the way the future of prosthetics technology could allow people to switch out limbs as needed the way Batman can don a new Batsuit.

    It reminds me in a big was of the Deus Ex games, and the way the player is able to have upgrades installed into their body or replaced in favour of something else at a cost. In fact, I suppose a huge amount of Cyberpunk fiction involves this concept of customisable body parts to be added or subtracted as desired.

    I think you should definitely follow this line of thought in which prostheses become desirable or fashionable as technology eliminates the gap between them and home grown flesh limbs, or even overtakes them all together. Just think, a half dozen of us in class the other day were drooling over the concept of being able to replace our eyes with high tech cameras.

    You might be interested in checking out some Cyberpunk/ish texts and fictions and how they deal with this topic, for example Logan in the second season of Dark Angel, but ultimately the world is your oyster with this and people are giving you so much great stuff. Take it where you will!

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