Huge Herr is a cyborg. He has two bionic legs. He does pioneering research into cybernetic technology. But much more importantly, he has some very forward-thinking ideas about this technology, and how our society should deal with it. Read this amazing profile of him in the Wall Street Journal, which includes a lot of useful info about where physical cybernetics may be heading.

But here is my favorite excerpt:

Instead of labeling humans as broken, [Herr] continues, the industry ought to apologize for its limitations. "Humans aren't broken. They're never broken. The technology we provide for rehabilitation is broken."

Advertisement

This echoes an idea that has been rolling around in my head ever since I started thinking seriously about cyborg technology. We tend to view biological technology through a medical lens. We think biological technology is there to "fix" our "problems" and make us "healthy". But we often feel uncomfortable with the idea of "enhancement" beyond the "human norm". We're afraid that there's an invisible line, and if we improve ourselves past that line, we'll start losing our humanity.

I'm not sure I agree with this idea.

Who is to say what the human norm is? What is the difference between health and superhumanity? If correcting vision to 20/20 with Lasik is "fixing a problem", why is correcting vision to 20/15 "enhancement"? And how is Viagra a "medical treatment", when senile erectile dysfunction is a near-universal physical norm?

Advertisement

Currently, almost all biological technology is bought, sold, and administered through the medical system, and payment is determined by health insurance companies that decide what we "need" to be "healthy" vs. what we only "want". This means that hugely more resources are poured into research into things that address the former category. To really get people working on a problem, you have to define it as "poor health" instead of "the natural human baseline condition".

That seems like a bit of a distortion to me. Like Hugh Herr, I think humans are never broken. The flip side of that is that technology is not there to "fix" us. It's there to make our lives better, regardless of where we start.