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Disability to be wiped out by technology

Technology will wipe out disability this century, MIT professor and amputee and climber Hugh Herr said on Monday.

Herr, head of MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, explained through fundamental advancements in human-machine interaction, society will eliminate disability in the 21st century, and establish the scientific and technological basis for human augmentation.

“The future of bionics includes ways to eliminate physical limitations and would allow for individuals to design themselves. The future also includes a shift in how people look at those with disability. Advances will not stop at replacing limbs as technology is not only making computers more like humans, but it is also doing the reverse,” the bionic man said.

Frostbite took both of Hugh Herr’s legs after a climbing accident on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. After having his legs amputated, the 17-year-old rock climber looked to his doctors and asked what was next. They told him he’d never return to rock climbing. That didn’t last long.

After the accident in 1982, Herr, who said he didn’t know at the time what a percent was, dove into math, science and engineering, which led to Herr becoming a pioneer in the bionic limb field, designing the bionic legs he now uses and leading the Biomechatronics group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

He demonstrated his legs, which include multiple computers and sensors that mimic muscles.

The high tech legs allow him to run and walk normally and make a light squeaking noise as he moves.

His legs allow him to move in the same way biological legs would, but he can’t feel them — yet.

Herr shared research with the audience at the Majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces including augmenting humans cognitively, emotionally and physically, as well as how maps of the brain and tools can hopefully target specific parts of the brain, which can lead to solutions to blindness, depression and schizophrenia.

His group is also working on ways to make the brain have control over bionic limbs, designing the biological body for better communications and natural biomechanical movements through synthetic body parts.

“It’s research that turns artificial limbs into parts of the body,” Herr said.

Herr also sees the future including changes to how limbs are amputated, which he said is a process that currently includes stitching muscles to bone and hasn’t changed since the Civil War.

Herr said the future of bionics includes ways to eliminate physical limitations and would allow for individuals to design themselves.

“As we march into the 21st century we will systematically eliminate limitation after limitation and I think that even at the halfway point of this century most disabilities will be gone,” Herr said.

He added advances in genetics, artificial intelligence, regenerative and reconstructive medicine, and robotics are beginning to enable more connections between the human body and machines.

Society is at the threshold of a new age when machines will be intimate extensions of the human body.

Such a merging of body an machine will not only improve the quality of life for disasbled people but will also allow persons with normal physiologies to experience augmented capabilities – cognitively, emotionally and physically.

He stressed there soon will be a world where technology will merge with our bodies to forever change our concept of human capability.

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