Followers of these Trend Tuesday posts are aware that I’m a big fan of movies, especially in the science fiction and action/adventure genres. Over the years, I’ve seen many ‘inventions’ that only existed for the movies — things that were very cool but weren’t real… yet. You can imagine my interest, though, when I recently began reading about technology that reminded me of the Caterpillar P-5000 Power Loader that Ripley – Sigourney Weaver’s character in the movie Aliens – wore in the movie.
In the 1986 movie, the so-called exoskeleton was nothing but a full-scale prop designed to supposedly allow someone to lift and move things far heavier than any human could lift on their own. Fast forward to find that Panasonic’s research group, Activelink, and any number of other companies are turning fantasy into reality. Have you ever imagined being able to easily lift heavy loads and/or run at speeds never thought possible? Well, it’s really happening and is actually part of a much broader field called Human Augmentation.
This emerging field is focused not only on the use of technology to overcome physical limitations of humans but mental ones as well. Amazing advances are taking place in achieving goals such as giving humans more energy, requiring less sleep, and improving a variety of mental skills like cognition, memory, concentration, etc.
The field is comprised of everything from advanced prosthetic devices (think Six-Million Dollar Man type robotics with brain-to-computer interfaces) to implants for improving hearing, vision, and pain management to ingestible medicine monitors. The pros and cons of implantable chips — for things like finding missing children or tracking employees traveling to dangerous regions of the world — have been discussed for years. In spite of obvious ethical, legal, and other concerns, those discussions will likely reemerge, especially as the infrastructure continues to get built to support personalization via the Internet of Things.
Whether the topic is hardware to make people stronger and faster or new classes of drugs to make people smarter or more alert, the technologies are largely here already. The extent to which they take human capabilities beyond what is considered ‘normal’, though, will play a big part in whether their evolution is slowed by widespread cultural resistance.