The Japanese government recently announced it will invest nearly $1 billion in “moonshot” projects ranging from artificial hibernation, cleaning environmental waste, and technology that could turn humans into cyborgs.
Wait a minute. What was that last one?
According to the Nikkei Asian Review:
“The research and development program aims to attract researchers in both Japan and abroad by demonstrating Tokyo’s enthusiasm in promoting ambitious scientific efforts to tackle major issues, including the declining birthrate and aging population, as well as to develop new industries around the technologies these efforts create.
“The program, for instance, will seek to realize a cyborg technology that can replace human bodily functions using robotics or living organisms by 2050.”
The Pros and Cons of “Cyborging”
While it’s not exactly easy to set aside all of the ethical concerns surrounding the idea of merging man with machine, there are some things to be said for and against such an idea, as Fit Day explored back in 2017:
- Improved senses (sight, smell, hearing, etc.).
- A better chance of surviving certain heart conditions (as in the case of a defibrillator), which can increase your life expectancy.
- Improved mood and lower rates of depression for paraplegics who can now walk as a result of bionic limbs.
- A better quality of life with new bionic limbs or heightened senses.
Sound pretty good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to be able to see or hear better as they age? Imagine knowing that if you need heart surgery, your cardiologist can merely install a machine in your chest to serve that purpose and even provide instant feedback via your cell phone or laptop. Clearly, we can all see the distinct advantages of embracing the concept of man merging with machine.
But where there’s an upside, there has to be a downside, too.
- Implanted devices in the body could malfunction.
- The body might negatively react to implantation.
- Other devices like metal detectors or anti-theft systems may interfere with cyborg devices’ (pacemakers, for example) ability to function properly, says the American Heart Association.
There’s also the legal implications of such technology. The Brookings Institution warns:
“Humans have rights, under which they retain some measure of dominion over their bodies. Machines, meanwhile, remain slaves with uncertain masters. Our laws may, directly and indirectly, protect people’s right to use certain machines—freedom of the press, the right to keep and bear arms. But our laws do not recognize the rights of machines themselves. Nor do the laws recognize cyborgs—hybrids that add machine functionalities and capabilities to human bodies and consciousness.“
In a certain sense, we are already becoming cyborgs. Consider the fact that we take our cell phones everywhere and how they are, in a very real sense, an extension of our bodies and minds:
“No, the phones are not encased in our tissue, but our reliance on them could hardly be more narcotic if they were. Watch your fellow passengers the next time you’re on a plane that lands. No sooner does it touch down than nearly everyone engages their phones, as though a part of themselves has been shut down during the flight. Look at people on a bus or on a subway car. What percentage of them is in some way using phones, either sending information or receiving some stimulus from an electronic device? Does it really matter that the chip is not implanted in our heads—yet? How much of your day do you spend engaged with some communications device? Is there an intelligible difference between tracking it and tracking you?”
The move by the Japanese government to fund cyborg technology could lead to advances that will help all of us live better, even longer lives. But as with any scientific advance, we also have to realize that questions remain about what happens once concept becomes reality.
For a closer examination of cyborgs, watch this video:
Featured Image: Cyborg via Pixabay