Scientists say advances in human augmentation could give us robotic arms, wings, or tentacles

Looking ahead: With artificial intelligence making huge strides in the past few months, what’s the next step towards humanity’s cyberpunk-like dystopian future? According to scientists, this could be a human augmentation involving robotic parts attached to our bodies, from an extra arm to help with daily tasks to wings and tentacles that make us who are supervillains, perhaps.

Before we had a vision of Cyberpunk 2077-style augs that could kill gangs of criminals or let us jump on top of houses, Tamar Makin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the MRC cognition and brain unit at Cambridge University, explained to The Guardian. that the current approach to human augmentation is focused on increasing productivity.

“If you want an extra arm while you’re cooking in the kitchen so you can stir the soup while chopping vegetables, you can have the option to wear and independently control an extra robotic arm,” he said.

Scientists have been experimenting in this field for many years. One of the most famous examples is the 3D-printed ‘third thumb’ created by Dani Clode, a colleague of Makin’s at Cambridge University. It was designed with a variety of workplace applications in mind, including helping waiters carry extra plates and construction workers holding joists in place while hammering a nail.

Another difference from the augmented humans in sci-fi media is that the brain cannot control these parts of the robot. In the case of the thumb, it is controlled by pressure sensors under the wearer’s two big toes, a method that can cause issues.

“We’re doing a lot of research right now to find out what it does to your nervous system when you start turning your toes back into an extra toe – how much [does] does it affect your ability to use your toes as a toe?” Makin said.

While there is research into using electrodes in the brain or spinal cord to control external robotic devices, Makin believes that this invasive procedure is not ethically justified when performed on healthy people.

Makin also said that adding wings and tentacles is a possibility. “The control is the real issue. So the wings are actually quite simple because they only have one degree of freedom – up and down.

These types of robotic attachments have been around for years. The thumb was unveiled in 2017, and you may remember the robotic tail from 2019 designed to improve agility and balance. The technology behind them is advancing – the new self-healing robot finger with living skin and Raspberry Pi-powered exoskeleton is proof of that – but it may be a while before we fly to work and pick up cups of coffee with our tentacles.

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