Wheelchairs Get A Boost

I am very excited by this new assistive technology for personal mobility coming out of Japan that can be used to help the aged or handicapped.Rather than have to buy a separate electric scooter for longer distances that is heavy and can be challenging for people with certain disabilities to use, the WHILLis a simple add-on that can be attached to and removed from a regular wheelchair and can be steered, like a Segway, simply by leaning in the direction you want to go.The WHILL is high-tech looking–like a futurist headphone that you place over the wheels of the chair and according to Gizmodo,it turns the wheels with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the chair up to 12 mph for 19 miles and then recharges in under 2 hours.While pricing information is not yet available, my assumption is that this add-on will be significantly cheaper than a full-out electronic scooter.

One concern that I have about the WHILL is how someone who is wheelchair-bound will be able to attach/remove the drive-train device without the help of an aide or nurse.  Perhaps an even more futuristic version will have the U-shaped WHILL built with push-button retractable arms, so that the attachment can simply “open up” rather than have to be removed.

Another question that I have is what safety features will be built in for example for automatic cut-off should someone using it get ill and keel over unto the device causing it to drive/spin out of control.  I am thinking a weight-sensor on the WHILL that detects if too much of a person’s body weight is leaning on it and then cause a safety shutdown.

Overall, I am encouraged by what WHILL will soon be bringing to help people in need to get around more easily in the future.

Replacing Yourself, One Piece at a Time

Here is a wonderful idea to help people who use prosthetics–a smartphone built right in to the artificial limb.What was once a challenging task to hold a smartphoneand make calls, write emails and texts, or just search the web is now just a push of a button or voice command away.This is a user-centric and functional integration of technology with medical science to help those who have either lost limbs or been born without them.While a step forward for the disabled, perhaps this is also a move towards future technological augmentation of regular body parts as well.What was once a tattoo or body piercing on the periphery may soon become an implanted smartphone in the body part of your choosing.The concept reminds me of the MTV show “Pimp My Ride” where run-of-the-mill cars are completely made over into new awesome vehicles by stripping them and rebuilding them with better, cooler parts.Is this where we are going with our human bodies–where one day we are an old beat-up minivan only to have our parts swapped out and replaced with biotechnology to become a new hotrod convertible once again.Now we are moving from leveraging technology for medical purposes to tinkering with our our physical bodies, using technology, for preference.Yes, this is already being done with facelifts and other cosmetic surgery, but how about replacing entire body parts not because they are diseased, but because you want or can afford an upgrade?Lot’s of exciting and scary implications to think about with this one–as our body parts become replaceable almost like legos–snap on and off.In the future, becoming a better, stronger, faster person may not be just a function of what you do, but how much you can afford to replace.

Deus Ex-Overtaken By Technology

 

Deus Ex is an action role-playing game (RPG) and first person shooter game. It sold more than a million copies as of 2009 and was named “Best PC Game of All Time.”

 

A prequel Deus Ex: Human Evolution is due to be released this month (August 2011). 

 

You play a coalition anti-terrorist agent in a world slipping further and further into chaos.

 

The time is 2052 and you are in a dystopian society where society has progressed faster technologically than it has evolved spiritually–and people are struggling to cope with technological change and are abusing new technology.

 

The challenges portrayed in the trailer show people using/abusing technological augmentation–the integration of technology with their human bodies–replacing damaged limbs, adding computer chips, and even “upgrading themselves”.

 

There are many issues raised about where we are going as a society with technology:

 

1) Are we playing G-d–when we change ourselves with technology, not because we have too (i.e. because of sickness), but rather because we want to–at what point are we perhaps overstepping theologically, ethically, or otherwise?

 

2) Are we playing with fire–when we start to systematically alter our makeup and change ourselves into some sort of half-human and half-machine entities or creatures are we tempting nature, fate, evolution with what the final outcome of who we become is?  As the end of the trailer warns: “Be human, remain human”–imagine what type of cyborg creatures we may become if we let things go to extremes.

 

3) Technology may never be enough–As we integrate technology into our beings, where does it stop? The minute we stop, others continue and we risk being “less intelligent, less strong, and less capable than the rest of the human race.” In short, are we facing a technological race toward dehumanization and as enhanced machines.

 

4) Drugs and other vices follow–To prevent technology augmentation from being rejected, mankind relies on ever larger and more potent doses of drugs.  We not only risk losing elements of our humanity to technology, but also to drugs and other vices that make us forget the pain of change and rejection (physical and perhaps emotional).

 

Deus Ex literally is Latin for “G-d out of the machine.” Perhaps, future dystopian society starts out by people trying to play G-d, but I think the risk is that it ends with the proverbial devil displacing the best laid intentions. 

 

While technology holds the most amazing of promises from curing disease, solving world hunger, and endless innovations (even including developing the archetype bionic man/women–“We can rebuild him…we have the technology”), without a solid moral compass and frequent check-ins, we run the risk of technology getting away from us and even doing more harm than good.