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16 Jul 2017

Can human body be upgraded, like softwares? Perhaps, yes!

Towards an era of human body augmentation

While we might be decades away from a scenario where AI overtakes human, we are closer to becoming robots ourselves through augmenting the human body, believes Professor Hugh Herr, the head of the Biomechatronics Group in Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although most work in bionics right now is focused on improving amputees' lives, bionics has the potential to change the human-race.

This is how!

In context

Towards an era of human body augmentation

We are entering a new epoch of integration

"We're transitioning from a relationship where we use technology that is separate from our nervous system, to a new epoch of integration, of human physiology," said Professor Herr, a double amputee who uses advanced bionic legs which allows him to move with natural poise.

Biomechatronics Group

The work of MIT's Biomechatronics Group

The Biomechatronics Group was initially set up to establish technological and scientific conditions to eliminate disability entirely.

Having reached that stage, the group is now focusing on integrating the human "nervous system with the built world".

The team is now working not on replacing them but improving them so that they can sync with the human brain - a supremely difficult engineering feat.

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Blurring of lines between biological and synthetic systems

"I definitely think that we are entering an age in which the line between biological systems and synthetic systems is going to be very much blurred," said Tyler Clites, a researcher.


Developments in human augmentation through robotics

The Biomechatronics Group is using sensors like those used in autonomous cars on prosthetic limbs to help the human brain prepare the leg to navigate the world.

They are also exploring exoskeletons which reduce physical exertion by 25%.

The group believes that once they can create an interface between the brain and robotic limbs, humanity will be ready to upgrade itself through robotics.

Changing the way amputations are done

"So while you've seen tremendous progress in mechatronics and robotics, you've not seen progress in how surgeries are performed to amputate limbs. That is now changing. We're redesigning how limbs are amputated to create the right mechanical and electrical interfacing environment," added Professor Herr.


Concerns arising out of such advancement

While there is evidence that the group is inching closer to achieving the impossible, there also arise several concerns with such technological advancement.

A major concern is that once such augmentation is achievable, the rich and powerful might augment themselves and leave the poor behind.

However, Professor Herr is confident that the cost of robotics is going to plummet, thus making it more accessible.

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