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The Liberating Age of Bionics

Even if progress has been inadequate, Dr. [Hugh Herr] declines to join the doubters. “Technologists, if they’re any good, are always frustrated at what seems to be the snail’s pace,” he says. Yet “there’s a technological arc that climbs upwardly with increasing slope with time” and “It’s inconceivable to me and everyone else what the world’s going to look like 20 years from now.” He adds: “Often the predictions are too conservative.” The other untapped resource is, well, ourselves. “The human body doesn’t do meat-and-potatoes engineering,” Dr. Herr says, and its workings are “non-obvious. . . . We spend a lot of time modeling how a quote-unquote normal healthy body works — morphologically, structurally, dynamically,” he explains. The BiOM never could have been developed in the abstract: “We would be lost if we couldn’t steal from the cookie jar of nature.” The science of extreme interfaces is “very exciting” but “very rudimentary,” Dr. Herr says, “but the problem is tractable and will be solved.” And think of the possibilities: “Imagine a world where we could actually fix people. They lose a limb, we give them a limb back. It may not be biologics, it may be synthetics. A world in which a person is seeing-impaired, we can fix it. A world in which a person has severe depression, we can fix it. . . . We’re going to have the opportunity in this 21st century to satisfy that human right.”