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From man to bionic man to manchine
The Bionic Man (The Six Million Dollar Man) used to be a very popular television show some time ago. It featured a human being acquiring enhanced capabilities as a result of advanced technologies being implanted in his body. At the time of the show, many viewed this as pure science fiction. But is this going to be the norm of the future?
Four to five decades ago, lasers were the stuff of science fiction. Nowadays, laser pointers and tools are indispensible in industry and medical practice. Science fiction can be viewed as projections of scientific/technological applications. What is interesting is that the gap between science fiction and science fact is decreasing rapidly.
The commercialisation of miniaturised technology, nanotechnology, is leading to more and more of these nanotechnology-based devices being implanted into humans. In effect the general population is becoming increasingly bionic. Hearing devices, pacemakers and various drug-delivery systems, to name a few, have become routine.
Bio-materials research has assumed significant proportions as artificial organs and blood vessels have become practical. It is within the realms of possibility to have a person with artificial knees, hips, heart, bones and blood vessels with implanted enhanced perceptual and analytic facilities and capabilities respectively. Is such a person a man, a bionic man or a manchine (a syncretised hybrid of a man and machine)?
Man and manchine are used here in a generalised sense to include both men and women. Manchines might be used to describe the movie character Robocop or Iron Man. One might ask if the endowing of robots with learning and emotional capabilities would result in a roboman and whether roboman would be identical to manchine?
The answer would be that a roboman is a machine endowed with human-like qualities while a manchine is a human endowed with artificial parts. The former might have, for practical purposes, an indefinite lifespan; the latter not. The evolution of manchines might send both bioethicists and religious bigots into frenzied fits. Notwithstanding such, mankind ought to prepare for this eventuality.
The percentage of the world’s mature population is growing as medicine continues to ensure that the average lifespan increases. On the plus side there is this huge pool of experience to tap into. On the other side there are the challenges of increased medical and other social costs. No clear answers exist.
With technology-enhanced man, like chemically-enhanced man, rules need to be modified. So, for instance, it is illegal for athletes to take performance enhancing drugs and engage in competitive events. What would be the decision in the case where a sprinter who was involved in an accident and had his tibia and fibula replaced with artificial ones that were capable of energy storage? Or in layman terms, they possess spring-like capabilities which endowed him with superior acceleration from the starting blocks. Would that be illegal, unethical and unacceptable and, if so, why?
Human muscles do have energy storage capabilities which are used to fantastic effect by shotokan karatekas. So it may be argued that energy storage in the body is certainly not unnatural. Walking and running in particular require the body to absorb tremendous shocks. Running shoes assist in this regard. Are all athletes required to ensure that their running shoes conform to some threshold Hooke’s coefficient (spring constant)?
Further, is it ethical to restrict someone’s right to participate in competitive events if that person is having a body part replaced by technology ? The arguments raised here are just the tip of the tip of the iceberg of considerations that need to be considered as the inexorable march of technology pervades and changes all aspects of human life and endeavours.
Being fully cognisant of the Trini penchant for ole talk and bacchanal, the opinion is nevertheless being ventured that issues arising from the impact of technology on society need to be brought to the fore and discussed and debated. In this regard it would really be laudable if the media, both print and electronic, pay increased emphasis to fostering a culture of scientific debate and inquiry.
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