Bluetooth Prosthetics: The Bigger Saga Continues

Another oft-mentioned topic here has been the broader implications of a growing human population that is not strictly biological and just how fast this change is coming about. Today comes news(and an amazing video) about how a common, low-cost technology used by many MJ readers is helping to accelerate the change:

Bleill, 30, is one of two Iraq war veterans, both double leg amputees, to use the Bluetooth prosthetics. Computer chips in each leg send signals to motors in the artificial joints so the knees and ankles move in a coordinated fashion.Bleill’s set of prosthetics have Bluetooth receivers strapped to the ankle area. The Bluetooth device on each leg tells the other leg what it’s doing, how it’s moving, whether walking, standing or climbing steps, for example.

“They mimic each other, so for stride length, for amount of force coming up, going uphill, downhill and such, they can vary speed and then to stop them again,” Bleill told CNN from Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Double amputee walks again due to Bluetooth – CNN.com

While it is clearly exciting and wonderful for the folks being helped by advances in prosthetics, it is valuable to recognize that were racing towards a future where the blurring boundries between humans and machines creates unprecedented challenges. I mean we’re having a hard enough time getting along just as strictly biological humans! People have tended to get pretty bent out of shape about perceived unfairness. As shown in the movie Chariots of Fire, people once thought that athletes using professional trainers were gaining an unfair advantage. Now we’ve got the U.S. Congress spending time & money during a war to hold hearings on steroid use – the unfair advantage of today while things like gene doping are hardly know by most including MLB Commish Bud Selig according to Sports Illustrated’s live blogger. One challenge presented by advanced prosthetics and human augmentation is that what starts out as life saving progress, can turn into an advantage that is perceived to be unfair. If sports were the only place where we had to deal with this sticky problem I suppose we could just muddle through like Mr. Selig, but humans compete in academics, business and war – arenas where the stakes are much higher.

Typically sci-fi depicts conflicts between humans and advanced machines, ignoring the more likely and complex issue of conflict between strictly biological and technologically enhanced humans. Still, there’s much to learn from these speculations into the future and what they bring from the past. While the Terminator movies focus on the role of machine intelligence in war, others like iRobot and The Matrix paint a picture much closer to home. In these movies, household machines designed to perform laborious tasks shunned by humans, take on more and more human qualities including the capacity for violence. The conflict begins when one machine B1-66ER, whose name and plot line is taken from the main character in Richard Wright’s Native Son eventually kills. The Matrix Comics story Bits and Pieces of Information includes the defense closing statement from the trial of B1-66ER which says in part:

“Chief Justice Tanny believed, truly believed, the black race to be an inferior species to the white race. In fact, it was widely believed at the time that the black man was not even a human being, theat he was a kind of animal, a two legged brute incapable of the same thoughts and feelings of the white man”

“I know that most of you feel about B166ER as Tanny felt about Dred Scott. But I ask you to consider, what is a droid capable of? Is he capable of fear? Is he capable of understanding the difference between life and death? I believe his is and I believe he killed those two men in self-defense, to protect his own life in the same way that you or I would”

In an ironic twist, humans trained and sent to kill are becoming the first generation of enhanced humans who may not unlike B1-66ER choose to resist mistreatment by strictly biological humans. Conflicts between technologically enhanced and “strictly biological” humans would make conflicts over slavery in America’s recent past or immigration today seem trivial. Some are just hoping it won’t get to that but I believe we can do more than hope, that the meshverse is fertile ground for learning how to work together. Even if you’re not a sci-fi type hopefully you’re staying tuned to the MJ where I do my best to keep it … uh virtually real for you.

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Prosthetics mentioned previously on the MJ

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