The children of the 70s and80s surely remember the TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. These shows surely are not highlights of the TV history, but they are showing an optimistic view on the future, in which humans with bionic implants have great abilities.
In the present w are not so far away from such implants. And we do not have to pay 7 Million Dollar for them. The Cochlea Implant is an implant, which makes it possible in some cases to give not hearing person a sense of hearing. But let’s start at the beginning.
A very short history of assisting technology
The history of human enhancement is nearly as old as the mankind itself. Only few animals developed so many helpful tools for hunting, for art or for convenience. Although disabilities may be very old. Blindness: hearing loss or mobility handicap was very probably part of the first communities.
We don’t know much about how ancient communities did treat their members with disabilities. But we can assume that they improvised assisting aids like a branch as mobility aid or a pipe as easy hearing aid.
Lenses were very early developed as seeing aid. William from Baskerville, a character in Umberto eco’s „The Name of the Rose“ used them.
The development of technology and science also improved the aids. Some inventions like the telephone or the Gramophone were especially developed for people with disabilities.
Like in many areas, assisting aids got smaller and more efficient. The most important innovations drivers were the electricity and micro electronics.
Glasses and electronic hearing aids were already developed and widespread. Implanted helps arise with the pacemaker.
The enhanced human
But this was in the paste. The steady improvement, reduction of cost and size of helping technologies guide to a new age of implants.
Some people are ashamed of assisting aids, so they try to hide them. Glasses were replaced by contact lenses and hearing aids were hiding behind the ear. Paralympic Sports men like Oskar Pistorios and Alan de Oliveira achieve with prosthetics the same and perhaps better performances than their not disabled colleagues. Implants for the eye are already in work, for example the Argus Chip. So we have already the components for a 13-million-Dollar-human, we only miss somebody, who makes a bad TV show about him or her.
After the human enhancement through Smartphones and wearable’s, the next logical step is to directly implant those aids into the body. For healthy people this is quite new, but for disabled or ill people this is everyday life.
The difference between the indirect information through technology and the direct stimulation of sensory] organ is quite big. You can’t compare it. I can describe a feeling visual, hearing or smelling but this is only a bad replacement for the direct smelling, seeing or hearing. It is like watching a porno movie instant of having sex.
Of cause, smartphones and other external helpers can be a big relief for all day activities, but they can never replace the direct stimulation. It is quite another thing to get something described than to experience it. The direct experience cannot be replaced by anything.
People start to implant more or less helpful things in their bodies; the trendsetter was the quantified self movement.
Of cause there are many difficulties, too. The implants for people with hearing or sighted loss demand that the brains of the patients are already trained to process visually or hearing stimuli. People who are born blind or deaf often cannot use them or they need much longer to use them efficiently.
On the other hand, the human body seems to be very adaptable. But it is important that the patients are as young as possible when they get their implant to make it easier for them to get used with it. But the human body seems to be quite good in to get used with new stimuli. Although many older people can achieve great performance in mind or body if they get the right training and incentives.
The future of implants
It is difficult to say, how the implant culture will develop in future. For me, it seems clear that many healthy and not-healthy people will use them.
The problem is that most helpful implants need an operating and a long rehabilitation. Many health insurances reject to take over the costs for that. On the other hand, above all adult people with disabilities did arrange themselves with their disability. For them it would me more difficult to adapt them to a new situation than to live their lives they died already.
But there are also people, who wants to improve their bodies and are willing to pay a high price in both senses: in money and in health. Perhaps you know the book of Aldous Huxley „Brave new world – revisited“ in which he enrols his dark assumptions about the future. You only have to take a look on the discussions of doping or medical abuse in amateur sports to get a perspective to see, how far people can go only to get small advantages.
If you believe in the visions enrolled in science fiction, there will develop a black market for implants and medical operations. The bio hackers will enjoy it to search for possibilities to enhance their body. And no law or ethical assumptions can hinder them to do with their body, what they want to do. Perhaps people with disabilities can profit from this experiments. Many of them are unsatisfied of their aids, because they cannot adapt them themselves to their needs. Most of the stuff is closed software or hardware end does not have interfaces to change them.
Another topic which will become hot is the possibility that people with disabilities with bionic aids can become better than people without disabilities. It is already discussed in some sport areas because the human body has reached his limit in high performances. The requirements in professional sports are getting higher and higher and people with Norma bodies almost have no chance to take part. For some, the thought is very attractive to cross the limit of the body with artificial aids.
But why should an implant not use the potential of digital systems. Why should a blind or deaf human not see or hear things that people without disabilities do not hear? I don’t know, I think, there is no reason to limit the possibilities of aids to the limits of the natural human body.