Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

When Will Remediation Become Augmentation?

The question occurred to me as I was reading this story:
New implant may 'bring music to the deaf'
A simple change to the design of 'bionic ear' implants dramatically improves the quality of sound they provide, say researchers in the US who have tested a prototype on cats.

The new device bypasses the cochlear and instead connects directly to the nerves that carry information to the brain.
At present, it seems that all the research we read about in terms of medical technology in the media has to do with the treatment of disability or disease, which is as it should be. I shouldn't be given super hearing while so many have no hearing at all. That makes moral sense.

However, those of us who anticipate implantable technological augmentation of humans might wonder, how will it begin? When will remediation become augmentation?

Of course, augmentation of human ability is what all technology accomplishes, that is nothing new, but I am referring to implantable devices. When will someone, for example, develop and sell an implantable device that gives a normally-sighted person enhanced visual acuity? A hearing person, enhanced auditory acuity? A person with normal brain function, enhanced cognitive power?

How might we expect such devices to be funded? Marketed? Received? Would the public react negatively, accusing the creators and users of such technology of attempting to rise about the average person? Of attempting to create a new "master race"?

If we consider how technology is received at present: political desire to make computers available to every child, for example, we can imagine that there will be complaints about the poor and sick being left behind, and the government responding by making some of these implantable augmentation technologies available to everyone.

At the same time, we should be aware that the rich already have greater access to such technologies as now exist than does the average person. Al Gore and his three 30-inch LCD monitors comes to mind. I admit to being envious.

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I will continue to stay tuned, searching for news of that first non-remedial implant.

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