Debate Over Bionic Humans

The debate over whether creating bionic humans is a necessary or harmful advancement may never end.

Bionic humans are increasingly popular in today’s pop culture and society. Ignoring the far-fetched likes of Black Ops III, the third in the Black Ops series by the Call of Duty game series, or movies like Terminator, bionic humans have become a reality—kind of. So what is classed as a "bionic human"?

The definition of "bionic" states, "utilizing electronic devices and mechanical parts to assist humans in performing difficult, dangerous, or intricate tasks, as by supplementing or duplicating parts of the body." In English, this means the integration of technology into human biology. This can range from minute features, such as hearing aids and braces, to large scale medical implements such as intelligent prosthetics and implants.

Over the past few decades, the progress towards creating a "truly" bionic human has taken leaps and bounds, but with that, large scale debate has been created. Almost everyone has an opinion when faced with the question “are bionic humans bad?”, regardless of if they fully understand what that means. For those that do, they typically base their argument on three key factors; religion, technological advances, and medical usage.

With this, I outline the arguments for whether bionic humans are good or bad, and give you the information to form your own opinion.

Photo via Mountain Vision

Religion

Religion has always, more or less, been opposed to tampering with man's natural state—in theory. This originally spawned with the debate over abortions, but also spans everything from drug addiction to medical treatment. Alas, a minority of religious followers believe that "bionic" implementations, such as sophisticated sensory aids or smart prosthetics, are to be frowned upon. In the Christian belief, man is made in God's image, and by tampering with it, you are creating imperfections. I spoke with Jean, 63, who claims to have followed Christianity all her life. I found Jean handing out leaflets with religious quotations outside my local train station.

"I just don't agree with all these smart artificial limb things," she told me. When I asked her why, she responded, "God made man the way he wanted. I think we should just be proud of what we were given." From my understanding of her short points, the argument was split into a debate of religious factors and self-worth factors—being able to make the most of a given situation. When considering Jean’s statement, we must also consider external factors that may influence her statements, and those of others, against these "improvements." One such factor is that, while Jean still has spring in her step, older generations are scientifically more inclined to be skeptical of large and substantial improvements to technology; After all, it’s a new and often scary world that is different from what they’re used to.

However, not all followers of religion share the same belief as that above. In fact, the majority support such advances for medical purposes only, with the rightful claim that it can benefit and enhance someone’s life to a level unparalleled without "bionic" implements.

Photo via Pinterest user Charlotte Done

Technological Improvement

There simply is no denying it—pushing for more advanced bionic implementations, and ultimately a "bionic man," would undoubtedly advance our current technology to an unprecedented level. As computer chips double in capabilities per iteration, so too does technology as a whole. Gone are the days of 4Mb memory sticks for the Playstation and tiny USBs capable of transporting 10 pictures. We live in the era of terabyte, fibre broadband, biomedical science, and discovery.

As NASA continues its interest in space, it discovers more and more. All it takes is for us to increase interest in the bionic capabilities of technology, and we’ll be there before a lifetime has passed. In fact, we’re almost there. Today, there are prosthetics available that react to the smallest of muscle movements or certain brain activities. There are hearing aids that connect directly to the skull to boost hearing, and there are implants that can change the processes of the host body almost instantly. We are nearly there, and if we increased the interest already upon it, we’d be there soon.

So what could be achieved? Of course, it’s only speculation as of yet, but the possibilities are endless. Motherboards that respond to thought, wiring that conducts the electrical signals of the brain, and internal prosthetics that work to an unparalleled level; retinal implants that reintroduce vision to the blind, hearing aids that completely eradicate deafness, and neural implants that completely remove mental disorders. Then there are "practical" uses; stronger bones that can lead to heavier lifting capability, improved legs to run faster, and the complete removal of debilitating illnesses like osteoporosis, or even in the most desirable of cases, the complete termination of paralysis. There are possibilities that seem impossible today, but very well may be proven within our lifetime. After all, top Cambridge scientists have already stated that the “first immortal human” has already been born.

Outside of human medical improvements, these advances could also benefit other aspects of life. Perhaps we could transfer future findings to animals, or even plant life. We could use discoveries about the brain to revolutionize external hard-drives and internal computing memory, or utilize an advanced understanding of synapses and nerves to redevelop wiring to a previously unheard speed. It doesn’t just stop at the bionic human debate.

Photo via Fan Art

Moral Argument

As with almost any argument in today’s society, there is a moral argument to consider—one largely based on personal preference. The main moral argument about bionic humans is "is it human" after all?

The debate arises from a biological point; If you replace the majority—not all—of the human body, is it human anymore? If not, do human laws apply to you? Do customs and social norms still apply to you? Are you treated as a new social class or race? Would racism arise as a result, or would you receive preferential treatment? No one knows. See, human psychology drastically changes in societal situations. While we may personally embrace bionic humans through technological integrations within the body, would we frown upon someone without? Equally, would we judge someone depending on the grade of bionic implementations someone has? One man may have to most advanced neuro-interfacing conceived, while another, due to a smaller expendable budget, may only have an outdated one. Would prejudice and judgement arise from this?

This is a wholly moral point—how would we act? Yes, we know it could have drastic medical improvements, advance our technology to a wonderful new peak, and end some of the world’s worst illnesses and diseases, but would we be human? Would we even act the same, or would similarly manufactured "parts" contribute to one singular mentality? We really don’t know, and simply point to sociological movements in the past for potential answers. It has been seen, time after time, that we as humans "follow the herd" of popular consensus. From dark eras such as Nazis in 1940s Germany and the cult followings of Jonestown to the brighter movements of Black Lives Matter and the Occupy global movements. we follow the normalized trends of the time, what best fit "us." If we embraced bionic humans, would this be a positive or a negative to society? Would you be an innovator, the next Bill Gates, or a follower to provide strength to a movement? That’s for you to decide.

Bionic humans, in one form or another, will be a reality. That’s a given. That’s something you can see from our movements in biomedical research and funding. While funding bodies focus on robotics and innovative travel, there is still a rapidly growing market in the integration of technology into humans. From the increasingly-intelligent smart prosthetics to sensory aids that reignite senses into the user; from 3D printed skeletal structures to artificial hearts, we’re getting there. The question isn’t “will we be there?”, it is “when?” and “will I embrace it?” One of my very earliest articles was about this very topic. I openly stated that I embraced it then, and I still do now. I’ve provided only a few of the many debates for this topic above, but the choice is yours. Do you?

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Debate Over Bionic Humans