• Question: do you think that us humans could ever start turning like robots and get all high tech like robots???

    Asked by 09gurdcar to Alan on 22 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 22 Mar 2011:

      That’s a very good question. The short answer is yes I do – in fact I think that as robots get more advanced, humans will get more enhanced so that – in the far future – it may be hard to tell the difference between robots and enhanced humans.

      This may seem an odd thing to say, but remember that we humans already have quite a few high tech enhancements. I (and lots of other people) have a low tech sensory enhancement – called a pair of spectacles. Although we take specs (or contact lenses) for granted imagine living life without them? Although my eyesight is not so bad – I certainly wouldn’t be able to do normal things like drive a car or go to the cinema without them. A real high tech enhancement that people with heart problems have is called a pacemaker. It’s something that sends small electrical impulses which regulate the heart’s rhythm. Another enhancement that some deaf people have is called a cochlear implant – an amazing device that connects a microphone to nerves deep in the cochlear to enable profoundly deaf people to hear. So you see the idea of surgically adding electronic devices to humans to compensate for problems is already well accepted.

      Another example is people who have lost parts of their arms or legs, perhaps because of accidents or because they have been soldiers wounded in action. Replacements for missing hands, arm, feet and legs, called prostheses, are now very high tech devices and – in fact – often made by the very same companies that make robots. This is not surprising because the engineering of artificial arms or hands is very similar if you are making humanoid robots or prosthetic devices for humans. One such company we work with in our lab is called Elumotion http://www.elumotion.com/.

      The interesting thing is that these artificial arms, hands and legs are beginning to get to the stage when they are – in some respect – better than the original, natural limbs. A good example is the runner Oscar Pistorius who has two artificial (lower) legs and feet that are so good that he can run much faster than most people with their own natural legs – so good in fact that he was banned from competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

      This means that in the near future (probably within 20 years) prosthetic limbs will be better than their natural counterparts. It’s possible therefore that some people might deliberately want to have their own limbs amputated so they can for example run faster or longer, have much stronger hands, lift heavier weights, etc, in other words become super-human. So – sooner than you think – humans might be able to become more like robots. But is this ethically acceptable? Should people be allowed to enhance themselves in this way? This is quite a difficult question, but one that I think society will need to face quite soon. What do you think?

      Great question thank you.