Disability Now: Cybernetics Special

Can and should cybernetics obviate the effects of disability?

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Another week, another discussion on transhumanism, this time courtesy of Disability Now and their podcast team of Paul Carter, Mik Scarlet and Sophie Partridge. These are outspoken people with a strong sense of identity anchored in part, around their disabilities. For these folks, cybernetics poses both opportunity and threat – it’s impact something not yet tangible but up for debate from both sides. As wearer of a bionic hand, I was the most pro-cybernetics party at the table and spoke my piece on the unexpected improvements it has made to my life.

Here’s my top 5 takeaways from our discussion:

1. Cybernetics and bionics are different things

Kind of. According to Mik, “the dictionary says that bionics is replacing bits that you’ve lost; like any use of physical ability or a loss of a limb etc. with technology. And cybernetics is augmenting ability.”

2. Enthusiastic engineers at the forefront of cybernetics hear a one-sided view of disability

There’s a resounding assumption that everyone with a disability wants to be “fixed” and that’s really not the case. What does the future look like for a disabled person in a world where it’s increasingly uncommon to be so?

3. But we’re all already benefiting in some way from technology that we consider part of us

Sophie conceded that her power-assisted chair is a piece of technology that she wouldn’t want to be without and considers an extension of her body. Most people I know feel this way about their mobile phone.

4. At some point, cybernetic-assisted ability will be greater than that of an unaltered human

Mik referenced his recent feature for Disability Now in which he asks, in a world where the disabled are given super-human enhancements, “Who’s disabled now?“. A topic likely to be discussed further as long jumper Markus Rehm continues his fight to participate in the Rio Olympics.

5. Cybernetics might be a whimsical diversion superseded by genetic enhancement

If developments in genetics mean a baby with one hand could have a new one grown, or that no babies are born with physical disabilities at all, prosthetics like my bionic hand come become as much a relic of technology as minidisc player.

Download the podcast to hear more on these topics and for further insight read Mik’s three-part series for Disability Now.

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