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Transhumanism: Evolving the Human Body VI

A military exoskeleton relieving from fatigue and seamlessly connecting the soldier with his team. Credit: Raytheon XOS 2

Enhanced strength

We have learnt to enhance our strength centuries, millennia, ago first with lever then harvesting hydraulic and then steam power. Today we have a tremendous array of machines that multiply ur strength. Our body strength has also improved since our ancestors, we have grown taller (10 cm in average in the last 150 years) and the muscular mass has increased. It looks like, however, that this increase has levelled out and there are good physical and physiological reasons why we cannot get bigger and stronger.

Much more recently researchers have started to create exoskeletons, wearable machines that can diminish fatigue and multiply our strength. Whilst diminishing fatigue (including flanking no longer usable muscles as it is the case for exoskeletons for paralytic patients) is already being done, with an increasing level of effectiveness, the multiplication of strength carries problems that are of difficult solution in a general context whilst they already work well in limited context. The difficulty derives from the risk of hurting the person wearing the exoskeleton: imagine having to interact with a bulldozer not from the cockpit but from the moving blade and lift cylinder!

Military and health care are the two sectors steering the evolution.

We have drugs that can enhance our strength and decrease the sense of fatigue and a few people are using them. This goes along with dangerous side effects that make this approach quite risky. Besides, the present culture consider artificial improvement of strength a form of cheating (doping).

In the future we might expect to increase our knowledge on the effect of the genome on the phenotype also in relation to strength, hence there will be the possibility to make changes to the genotype to increase strength at the phenotype level.

It is, however, much more likely the the increase of strength will come from the evolution of exoskeletons. These, in certain applications, might become a seamless extension of our body. We have already taken the first step in this direction. Consider, as an example, skiing equipment. The boots can be designed on our foot shape, using 3d laser scan and 3d printing and can be made with smart material to absorb vibration and become more responsive.

Donning an exoskeleton at work might become as normal as using a screwdriver… BCI will also improve the capability of controlling robots to the point of having them becoming a seamless extension of our body and effectively multiplying our capabilities.

This will be another component in the evolution towards humans 2.0, transhumans.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.