Disability Now: Cybernetics Special

Can and should cybernetics obviate the effects of disability?


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 Cybernetics might be a whimsical diversion superseded by genetic enhancement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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