This week, we’re celebrating the human body: the ultimate machine, four billion years in refinement.
Your heart can beat three billion times in your lifetime without maintenance — that’s a performance spec that no motor can match. Tens of trillions of cells inside you undergo constant death and regeneration. And your brain juggles countless autonomic and cognitive processes without so much as a status bar. But it was just eight years ago that we decoded our genome, seizing the blueprints for ourselves. We’re just starting to understand this machine enough to tinker with it. And Man being Man, we need to tinker.
Techie people like new toys. In the future that will mean everything from artificial limbs that perform better than the originals to benevolent viruses that recode the software of the human body. And as the gadget obsessed, we’d be the ones most likely to sign up first. And to go high end, cutting edge.
Last year I got LASIK and sprung for all the upgrades. Like the cornea mapping system to correct sector by sector aberrations on my eye, the same tech used to remap the flaws in Hubble telescope’s glass. And the laser cut instead of the scalpel, which reduces night halos. Everyone else attending the mandatory pre-surgery briefing went budget. But when it comes to our bodies and minds, the gadget-minded think of our flesh and soul as extensible and upgradable with only with the best.
For a far more interesting story, we are lucky to have an amazing guest editor with us this week named Aimee Mulllins — Aimee was born without fibulae in both legs and her doctors decided to amputate her legs below the knees to give her a chance to walk with artificial legs. Eventually, she became the first woman with a disability to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) using carbon fibre equipment modelled after the hind legs of a cheetah. She’s also been voted as People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people in the world and, at 17, was the youngest person to hold top secret Pentagon security clearance. Some might classify Aimee as handicapped, but I’d call her enhanced. I hope she can share with us what its like to depend on her gear and have it change the way we live and the conditions we’re born with.
Through the week, we’ll hear from other experts too:
• Daniel H. Wilson, author of How To Survive a Robot Uprising, will be writing about his experiences searching for super-powered strength.
• Sexologist Debby Herbenick will discuss some of the upgrades going on below the belt.
• Our own Mark Wilson, who spent a week hearing about the outer edges and most pressing needs of health science at the TEDMED conference in San Diego, will share his encounters with the stars of organ growing, genome mapping, human body imaging and more.
• In a Q&A with The New Yorker‘s Michael Specter, we’ll see why it’s more dangerous to not embark on the paths of genetic and viral manipulation than to follow them to their most unnerving ends.
This week, Gizmodo will be exploring the enhanced human future. We’re calling it This Cyborg Life. And its all about what happens when we treat our body less as a holy object and more as what it is: Nature’s ultimate machine. Even if we can’t replicate it — yet — we can make it better.