Bionics And Cyborgs


A few years ago handicapped runners started to use new prostheses which looked like a curved thick metal sheet in a shape of a bird’s leg. The prostheses were flexible, enabled better spring and easier movement while running and the runners were achieving better times in races. Even discussions started whether these athletes could or should contest against the not handicapped ones. Surprisingly (or not), the not handicapped runners found such competition unfair, explaining that the prostheses have qualities human legs will never have and thus the handicapped runners would have great advantage over them.

A few weeks ago I was reminded of that dilemma when I was listening to an interview with a man who lost his hand in an accident and got a high-tech bionic prosthesis. A prosthesis that not only replaced the lost hand but offered skills his human hand would never be capable of.

Obviously, technology advantaged those people over “common people” in a certain way. Yet there is nothing to be envied as those are stories of people who had a nasty accident, went through a bad illness or were born physically disabled. The prostheses help them to live as normal life as possible which is their purpose and a remarkable achievement. As a “bonus” the people were given certain advantage but the advantage was actually just a side effect lacking general usefulness and was received at the cost of the loss. Would anyone want to sacrifice a part of their bodies to get a technical advantage instead? Under usual conditions, I doubt it.

But think of another case. Once I watched a presentation of a man who was born colour-blind and could see only in shades of grey. Nowadays he wears a small apparatus on his head that scans colour frequencies in front of him and sends them into a chip implanted at the back of his head. The colour frequencies are transformed into audio frequencies there and he can hear the colours in the form of tones. Obviously not individual ones most of the time but their combinations. Thus he hears music of pictures, faces, food and on the contrary, music causes him to see colours. Is it surprising that he started painting what he hears? He even decided to widen the range of colours he can identify into the infra red and ultraviolet spectrum and can hear colours people cannot see.

Although the human brain is a smart tool and can suppress something here or accent something else there, going through the process of getting used to the tones and their combinations and learning to identify them must have been tough. And yet the man says that it was worth the effort. It brought new and unexpected perspectives to his life. He feels enriched and encourages people to extend their sensual perception by using technology as part of their bodies.

And here I started wondering. Would anyone not disabled want to put their health at risk by implanting electronic artificial objects into their bodies to get that kind of advantage? I am not the one but we humans have many faces and expectations and I know that the right answer to that question is “yes”. People always experimented with their bodies and minds in pursuit of new experiences and possibilities. Also, it has already been suggested that subcutaneous chips might be used for storing one’s data in a universal ID one would have with them all the time. But how much bionic or cyborg-like a person should become? Or should be allowed to become?

In my opinion, implantation of various types of chips seems almost certain in not that far away future. And when it comes to survival, the future may require measures inconceivable now as people may need every advantage available. But for the time being, I am happy that there is still the option for everybody to make that decision.



  1. Soosie

    Oh Petra. This is a scary post on so many levels. I suspect that you are right and humans may need chips to surive in the (not distant enough) future. Our need for them will. be self-induced. And they won't be available to other species. I am also sure that some people will opt for them for reasons of vanity, and one upmanship. And those chips/protheses will not be available to everyone. Just the wealthier among us. Justice/equality are important issues for me.
    At the moment my answer would be no, if the opportunity came my way. But that is easy to say now…

  2. Marcie

    On the one hand – I have to think that medical technology is absolutely miraculous. It saves and changes lives. On the other – as you've so aptly pointed out – now that the possibility of bionics exists….it's a scary one. I can't imagine anyone wanting to implant any micro-anything voluntarily…but it's a brave new world we're living in.
    Much to think about here – for sure!

  3. Ginnie

    This is just mind-boggling, Petra, isn't it!!! And now I'm gonna say something very selfish, if not self-serving: many years ago someone said that after the gay/marriage-equality issue is settled, the next big focus will be on artificial intelligence. If that includes what you're talking about, and everyone starts harping on THAT, the good news will probably be that we have finally "resolved" the gay issue (kinda like we did with the Civil Rights movement years previously).
    Sigh. If it's not one thing, it's another. Guess we need to keep our thinking caps on! Fabulous post and I love your image.

  4. Catherine

    Well Petra the scariest thing about developments in medicine for me are that these will only be available to those who can afford it. Having seen so many people benefit from these advances that would be a horrible prospect wouldn't it? As things move forward at top speed we can only hope that these future developments are made for ethical reasons and not just for profit…..great post!

  5. SaucyKod

    Petra, this was a most fabulous post. I am one of those future thinkers and I do believe the best is yet to come. We use such a small portion of our brain and to be able to do the above mentioned things, just opens whole new fields of accomplishment and "who knows what the future holds" ? I love to look ahead, I love to see the miracles of discovery and this post of yours is the best one I have read in quite some time. BRAVO to you my dear. You are now INDEED my little sister 🙂

  6. Donna@Gardens Eye View

    I love thought provoking posts and this is a doozy…I had similar thoughts when the athletes protested that those with artificial limbs had an advantage…I thought how could that be…who would want to have that life if given a choice…let them compete and let's see who has the advantage. Growing up with TV that talked about bionics was fascinating and wonderful to see that those who had so-called handicaps could be helped was thought of as the wave of the future…it seems that future may be here. I would not opt for changing my body if I did not need to. Wow this could be a discussion that goes on and on…thanks for prompting it.

  7. Honey

    THIS got my hairs to stand up and salute. loved the toys and the topic. i don't even remember exhaling, until the end. so much has changed in my lifetime with technology that i simply cannot imagine what is ahead. i was leafing through a "martha stewart living" magazine last night and saw that she has a drone to take aerial shots of her farm. $385.00. i didn't even know you could buy such a thing! not that i will, but oh my.
    thanks for getting my dander up and my thinking cap grinding. thinking is good! great post.

  8. Barbara

    Petra, this is so startrekesque and futurespace all rolled into one. We do and interact with so many things today that our ancestors, even two or three generations ahead of us in life couldn't have imagined and I often wonder, what will my grandchildren consider "every day" that I can't imagine now.

  9. Jennifer Richardson

    i'm grateful the technology exists to help accident and illness victims
    reclaim some of their lost functions so that they can enjoy to the fullest
    the lives they're blessed to be living
    but the idea of bionic people gives me the heebie jeebies.
    no thank you . no thank you very much.
    grateful for my limitations,

  10. Sue

    Years ago I used to call my mother the 'bionic woman,' with her pacemaker, implanted pig's valve, knee replacement, implanted lens, etc. Much lies ahead, of that I'm sure. Whether all of the advances will be positive remains to be seen.
    A most thought provoking post.

  11. Deborah

    Very good post, Petra! I can see both sides of the coin here, the advantages and the disadvantages that this new technology brings. And I love the photo of all those toy people, but then again, if some of us had the advantage of bionic/technical implants, would we be treated like toys by those with the power to do so? That's where this took me this morning. Much food for thought.

  12. Maery

    I think it's great that there is technology to help people who have lost a limb, are paralyzed or in some other way it is helping them live the life they would have lived if not for physical trauma or illness. But just using implants to enhance your abilities or experience sounds like a dangerous idea and will make people less human. Plus, as mentioned, will only be available to the rich who already have enough advantages.
    I listened to a scientist the other day talk about how they are still working on getting computers to learn and think beyond what we program them for. Have they not seen the movie "Hal" or other movies where scientists make this mistake and computers take over the world and start killing people? I do believe there are areas of science that simply should not be explored.

  13. Elena Caravela

    A fantastic post Petra! So many intricacies, so many issues to wrap our old-fashioned brains around! I find the possibilities both scary and exciting. I think the issues we, as a human race are just beginning to experience right now-bionics to aid in illness and accident is a"getting our toes wet" sort of introduction. As time goes by, changes will occur slowly, almost without great notice. Generations from now, humans will grow "comfortable" with bionic changes to our minds and bodies-much like the boiled frog effect. I dare say that while I am as wary as anyone else, my great grandkids (should I have any and/or live long enough in my organic form to enjoy the privilege of great grandkids ), might look upon my "old world" attitude/prejudice about bionic/genetic "improvements" with embarrassment. LOVE the discussion, and your image as well-thank you Petra and our digital world;)

  14. Kelly

    It feels so unreal to read the words that technology like this will soon be available to almost everyone, yet I know it is true. We are living in the future, and like all technologies, there will be pros and cons.
    I do remember the dilemma about the runners and I was appalled at the things people said…whatever advantage that may have been gained could never make up for what had been lost.
    I'm sure this sort of thing will come up again and again as we have to work out the ethics of using these technologies to enhance our physical selves. It's scary and fascinating at the same time.

  15. Linda At To Behold The Beauty

    "I am happy that there is still the option for everybody to make that decision." That line sums it up for me, Petra. I'm thrilled that people who have suffered the loss of some function have so many options available to help make up for that loss. But you're right that the result is still a loss.

  16. THANK YOU all for sharing your feelings and opinions, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments. They showed an array of attitudes and angles of looking at this technological development. There might be a lot of to fear of but also a lot to be looking forward to, all very unsure at the moment. It’s up to us humans in which way we will use technology and I can do nothing else but hope that the common good will win. Always. 🙂

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