The Future Is Augmented

 Nick Webb. Flickr

 Nick Webb. Flickr

A great many people have attempted to define what makes us 'human'. While many definitions perhaps do an injustice to the astonishing variety within our species, one intrinsically 'human' aspect could be our tendency to alter ourselves and our abilities through technology.

From the very beginning some individuals refused to sit back and accept being weaker or slower; they used whatever they could find or make to excel and expand their skill-set. We (unfortunately) couldn't fly naturally, but some talented people invented flying machines so that we could. Even staunch traditionalists likely use some form of augmentation, from buying farmed food at a supermarket to driving a car. Virtually every aspect of our lives involves tool usage and augmentation is at the very heart of civilisation. People have been dyeing and cutting their hair, tattooing and wearing some form of clothing or decoration for thousands of years, so as artificial limbs become ever more advanced and implants potentially become commonplace, how might our perceptions of our bodies change? If history gives any clues, they'll probably evolve with the times, as they always have done in the past.  

Medicine chiefly deals with fixing problems rather than enhancing abilities, but drawing a line at augmentation is a little mystifying when it occurs in almost every area of life. Doping controversies at athletic events can at times be perplexing, and it's not at all clear where the line should be or why; using optimised shoes is fine, but taking hormones is seen as unacceptable. Training and equipment already produce a somewhat 'artificial' environment, so drawing a line at biology alone can appear a little arbitrary. The Paralympics are so inspiring precisely because they celebrate grit and determination more than 'natural' ability. 

"People think technological interventions of this sort, if taken too far, will change humans and what we've come to know as a human, but on the other hand, there's no fixed thing as a human," Abou Farman, a professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research, said. “We’ve changed the human body for generations. Bodies are socially created entities. Physiologically, bodies are shaped by the things they ingest, what they're asked to do, the environments they live in—these all shape the body in the exterior. The body of a bodybuilder or a runway model or a person who works an office job is going to be different."

There is already a large range of technology in the pipeline.

There is already a large range of technology in the pipeline.

In a world of contact lenses, WiFi and a multi billion dollar cosmetic industry the numbers really speak for themselves. It is in fact human to alter and adapt; a feature which allowed us to spread to every area of the globe, spawning the immense cultural variation we see today. There will always be resistance to change and evolution, but frequently the advancements that confer an advantage eventually break through. As wearable and embeddable technology expands, health becomes enhanced and we live longer than ever before, what's perceived as normal will simply change relative to the times. The future will thus likely be augmented, as it perhaps always has been. 

'These advancements could be part of a prosthetic flowering, in which the goal is not going back to “normal,” but understanding that normal is created for everyone.'

Read more at Motherboard