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Old December 27 2012, 10:28 PM   #22
Crazy Eddie
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Re: Information age to "Hybrid Age"

Let's define some terms here. What RAMA is basically predicting is the advent of "recreational cybernetics," which is the use of cybernetics to enhance the abilities of otherwise perfectly healthy people to give them an edge over their non-cybernetic peers. This is a contrast with "corrective cybernetics" which is essentially a high tech prosthesis which replaces functionality lost due to illness or injury.

Robert Maxwell wrote: View Post
All that stuff is a pretty far cry from (as you mentioned) brain implants that increase mental capacity/power/storage. I think there would be substantial societal, regulatory, and ethical hurdles to get over before something like that even approaches being a routine occurrence.
Well the first hurdles would obviously be financial and medical. Most of those recreational technologies will evolve out of prosthetic ones; implants designed to correct, say, extreme forms of epilepsy or Alzheimers would probably gain a secondary use enhancing otherwise healthy people who want to be able to use those implants for additional mental stability and cognition.

The thing is, the corrective technology is already so expensive that it is only used in extreme cases. Note that in this example "Extreme cases" means either an extremely bad case of Alzheimers, or for the treatment of an extremely important (or extremely wealthy) patient. The procedure is likely to remain extremely expensive for a long period of time since at the outset only a handful of surgeons would even be familiar with the procedure -- let alone qualified to perform it -- and only a handful of patients would be able to afford their rates. If/when it became more common it would still remain relatively expensive and difficult enough that it would continue to be used prosthetically as opposed to recreationally for a considerable length of time.

But there's another side to this, see below:

I think it moves into totally different territory once you talk about actually enhancing people's natural capabilities with implanted technological devices. It upends a lot of what we take for granted. For instance, say we start implanting people with flash drives of a large capacity. What do you then do about taking exams or other tests of knowledge? Does having the requisite information in a solid-state brain implant still count as "knowledge" or "expertise"? I find those implications a lot more interesting (and ultimately problematic) than what will be technically possible.
One thing I've figured out is that, initially, recreational cybernetics will be an outgrowth of prosthetic technologies; you don't just want replacement legs, you want high-performance replacement legs that might allow you to jump higher than someone with normal legs. You don't just want a prosthetic arm, you want an arm with superior dexterity than your original arm. You don't just want your sight back, you want 20/5 vision, enhanced night vision and maybe infrared. You don't just want the chip that stabilizes your epileptic episodes, you want one that can enhance your concentration or improve your spontaneous recall or visual memory.

We had a taste of this with Oscar Pistorius' Olympic bid, first with the controversy over his prosthetic legs (the extent to which they gave him an advantage over able-bodied athletes) and to what extent his performance was owed to the quality of his prosthetics or his own athletic skill. It wound up not mattering at all since Oscar didn't place in the finals, but it marks a precedent for the way these things are likely to progress: a generation of two from now, we're going to see at least one parapelegic or otherwise handicapped athlete win Olympic glory and then be immediately challenged on the premise that the high-end prosthetics he's using give him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Eventually, the Olympic committee will probably treat high-end prosthetics as a kind of cybernetic performance enhancement and regulate them accordingly; handicapped athletes will have to have their prosthetics certified and approved beforehand in addition to the usual steroid/performance enhancer testing. That same standard is likely to extend to the broader economy and the workplace; people who don't care about performance enhancers won't care much that the VP of Communications has a chip in his head that allows him to work twenty hours without passing out, while police departments might include the overall integrity of prosthetic parts and implants as part of their physical fitness standards (and maybe require an upgrade for a one-armed ex-Marine attempting to join the force with a cheap plastic arm he got from his crappy HMO).
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