Singularity is far ahead? Maybe it is not in terms of intelligence augmentation. Human exoskeletons to enhance physical abilities are no longer in the research and development process; they are now in the production process for disable athletes (parathletes). Cybathlon is the championship for robot-assisted parathletes, and in this case the parathletes are racing pilots with disabilities, who are using advanced assistive devices including robotic technologies. Cybathlon comprises of different sports and people with different kinds and levels of disabilities. The equipment being used includes powered exoskeletons, removable powered limbs, powered knee, electrically simulated muscles and “brain-computer interfaces” Cybathlon is being organized by Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics (NCCR Robotics), which claims that the event is being used to remove barriers between the public, the disabled, people with disabilities and science.
This cyborg type of technology is definitely going to change the lives of the people with disabilities; it might also make them more able than the normal people. Are normal everyday individuals going to want such technologies to enhance their lives? Will all military personal be asked to use this technology? Would there be any regulations as to who gets to use this technology with robotics and brain-computer interface? Are we going to need people for physical labor? Are we responsible enough to use this technology?

3 Responses to Cybathlon

  1. I think this is a very interesting instance of technology being integrated with the human body. It seems to be somewhat similar to the case in “The Gentle Seduction” where technology was used to help improve humans physically, although this is not done using nanobots. Also, the introduction of the brain-computer interface definitely coincides with “The Gentle Seduction” and almost meshes the brain-computer interface aspect of the nection with the physical aiding aspects of the nanobots.

    To answer a few of your questions, I do think everyday people are going to want to use this technology, especially people with disabilities. Maybe one day people who are paralyzed will be able to walk with such technologies. If the technology can improve people’s quality of life in this way, I definitely think it will be used. It also exemplifies a positive side to the possible singularity. Many, including myself, are scared of what might happen but it is nice to see such a positive story that relates to the topic.

    I’m not sure if there will be any regulations as to who will be able use this technology. I mean it would make sense if such technology will make a person significantly stronger than a normal person and could then be used as a weapon. I’m not sure how the regulation would work however. Another thing I can see happening with this new technology is an effect of the digital divide. Someday if this technology starts to become more widely used, people with more money will be able to get it first so it’ll almost be a sign of social status. Also, people with disabilities whose lives’ could be improved by this technology might not be able to get ahold of it because access is not yet widely available. This seems closely related to healthcare.

  2. This is undoubtedly a positive development in technology, as it will drastically increase the quality of life for those who are physically handicapped. I think many of the questions being raised will turn out to be philosophical non-issues. Even if the physical capabilities granted by these cyborg-related technologies do have an edge over the natural human body, I do not see this posing any true dilemma. For one, competitive sports have already done a good job of creating a separate, respected arena in which these individuals can compete in, while guarding the sanctity of all the traditional areas of competition as well. Also, normal people being envious of these cyborg-assisted individuals is a small price to pay in comparison to the mental and emotional struggles the physically disabled have endured prior to this technology. Furthermore, it would be impractical for corporations or the military to ask or mandate that all its members adopt this technology. The vast majority of positions that exist in either entities are non-labor intensive, and the areas where cyborg technology may be beneficial are largely “opt-in” areas such as special forces in the military. Lastly, I do not fear this technology being used irresponsibly, as it is far less lethal than the means of force that law enforcement and criminals alike already have access to, such as armored vehicles or firearms. From my perspective, the effects of this cyborg technology are almost entirely beneficial.

  3. Let me start off by saying that cybernetics is incredibly cool, and something I’ve been fascinated with since childhood. The applications for a lot of this kind of stuff is literally endless, especially for those who are currently disabled. I really don’t think you can regulate something like this. With that said, I think regulation of this sort of thing will be incredibly difficult. Say that at some point we develop cybernetics potent enough to give people super human strength, along the lines of being able to lift cars, punch through steel, or maybe even more. You don’t really want just anyone running around with ability to punch a hole in a brick wall, or someone’s chest for that matter. For disabled people, it’s a medical procedure, and telling certain people they are not allowed to get particular medical procedures seems unethical. I’d say divine rights theory would cover that extremely well, along with rule utilitarianism. You should be able to control your own body, being the rule and the right. Once you start telling people what medical procedures they are allowed to get I think you’ve ventured into a society that is a too controlling. However I think you can regulate the maximum power output of devices that augment and enhance people physically. That way people can’t use their cybernetics to cause massive amounts of damage compared to what they’d normally be capable of. I think mental enhancements would be far trickier to regulate as their isn’t as much of an argument of regulation for public safety.