Tyler Clites holds a BS in Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering from Harvard (2014) and a PhD from Harvard//MIT program in Health Sciences and Technology (2018). Presently he is a Post Doc in the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab where his research focuses on the development of novel techniques for limb amputation surgery with the goal of improving the connection between the biological body and a synthetic limb. The approach is known as the agonist-antagonist myoneural interface (AMI). Information on this exciting new technology can be found here and here. The results are that AMI allows people to control a prosthesis and to feel its movements as if it was their own limb. This is referred to as “embodiment”.
While this technology offers an amazing new class of prostheses to people who desperately need them Clites then pushes the provocative idea that as these “robotic devices” improve and even surpass normal biological limbs in function they will gain the potential to alter humankind. For this potential to be realized people, he claims, need to let go of their reservations about surgery for augmentation which he says has already begun by citing the 17.5 million elective cosmetic surgeries performed in the US in 2017. By extension of this desire to synthetically enhance one’s body, Clites suggests that the next step would be the elective amputation of limbs with the subsequent integration of this robotic technology. He list as examples surgeons whose “new” hands are perfectly steady and firefighters whose “new” legs allow them to kick through walls in an effort to rescue victims.
Clites then makes the admission that a justifiable concern is the misuse of these "augmentative technologies”. Remember the firefighter whose legs could kick through walls? What if this same person also had a problem with alcohol and/or anger management? What if that person in a rage decided to hurt or kill someone with his or her robotic legs? Clites claims that careful legislation will be necessary to prevent what he refers to as the hijacking of physical augmentation for violent or oppressive purposes. Can legislation really protect us from this? Even if it could here in the US, this technology will be global and hence beyond the jurisdiction of any US legislators. Put another way; can legislation protect us from physically augmented terrorists who come here to conduct terror attacks? One thing is for sure. The technology is close to being reality and it will bring with it some very serious moral and ethical issues. You can read Tyler Clites’s article here.