The Veterans With Robotic Arms

The U.S. government is investing heavily in the creation of sophistcated prosthetic limbs for returning soldiers. Could they someday be used on the battlefield, too?

Super-strong mechanical appendages and brain implants are common fixtures of a science-fictional future. More and more, American veterans are arriving at that future before the rest of us. As a result of military-funded programs, vets are becoming the research platform for cybernetic technologies that are decades beyond commercial state-of-the-art and that could one day elevate humanity beyond its natural biological limitations.

The idea of improving humanity through technology is older than Icarus, but in recent decades, thanks in part to the rapid pace technological advancement, it’s also become an active area of philosophical debate, sometimes referred to as transhumanism. Futurist and technological ethicist Nick Bostrom defines transhumanism as a movement that seeks to understand and evaluate “opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology.”

It’s the word enhance that makes transhumanism a controversial subject, suggesting that nature, especially as it applies to the “human organism,” can be improved through meddling. The very idea immediately conjures up images of cyborgian super humans that are, as Obi-Wan Kenobi once described Darth Vader, “more machine … than man.”

What is enhancement? More than a decade ago, bioethicist Eric Thomas Juengst put forward a definition that many in the field continue to cite to this day. Enhancement seeks to “to improve performance, appearance, or capability besides what is necessary to achieve, sustain, or restore health.”

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