The Cyborg Agenda

So this is a thing:

As the 2016 US Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party, I advocate for doing whatever is necessary to eliminate physical disability altogether. We are shortchanging our citizens and our country by not doing otherwise. In the 21st Century, with so much technology and radical medicine at our fingertips, we should reconsider the Americans with Disability Act. It's great to have a law that protects against discrimination, but in the transhumanist age we also need a law that insists on eliminating disability via technology and modern medicine.

Now first, let's just take a moment to savor the fact that "The Transhumanist Party" is a thing that exists. And that "The US Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party" is also a thing that exists.

But that being said, I admit that I have often thought that if even half of the money we've been pouring into contractors to build lowered service counters, triple-sized bathroom stalls, single-story elevators and miles of ramps were spend on robotics instead, then by now everyone in the country who needed one could have their own Power Loader. Upstream solutions are better than downstream. Just because he's a kook doesn't make him wrong.

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15 Responses:

  1. Mariachi says:

    Considering there’s a significant segment of deaf people who are loudly opposed to the existence of cochlear implants, the obstacles to the bioaugment-the-handicapped approach may be more than technological.

    • Karellen says:

      OTOH, I don't think there's any intention to force bioaugmentation on anyone who doesn't actually want it.

      • Mariachi says:

        No, but prioritizing funding can exert a strong influence, in the sense that every dollar spent on bionic leg research is a dollar withheld from wheelchair ramps, and vice versa. Once we get to the point where being crippled is an optional disability, are we still going to build ramps to appease people who refuse to get bionic legs only for cultural or religious reasons? Wouldn’t a refusal to accomodate constitute some degree of force?

        I don’t expect to face this dilemma in my lifetime since fully-capable bionic technology is pretty far off in most areas. The preserving “Deaf Culture” thing may be an early-access preview of how it goes down though.

        • nooj says:

          that every dollar spent on bionic leg research is a dollar withheld from wheelchair ramps, and vice versa.

          Don't forget the part about how other people get to buy bionic legs too! The Market will decide which we need more.

      • Chas. Owens says:

        I think you are wrong. Let's look at what he has to say:

        I advocate for doing whatever is necessary to eliminate physical disability altogether.

        we also need a law that insists on eliminating disability via technology and modern medicine.

        Sounds an awful lot like he wants to force people to be augmented. He also wanted to take away most of the infrastructure money that makes the sidewalks better for everybody and devote it to trying to come up with solutions to "eliminate physical disability". In effect, he wants a world where citizens have to adapt to the environment instead of the environment being adapted to the citizens. This ignores the simple fact that adapting the world for those with disabilities makes it better for everyone. Ever use closed captioning because the environment was too noisy or your partner wanted to sleep? Ever use a ramp to cart heavy stuff up a level without having to worry about the stairs?

  2. k3ninho says:

    I have friends who have finally got it into my head the perspective that society disables people; the acceptance of my friends being different makes it society's job to accommodate them. Commoditising the hardware to smooth over those gaps in personal physical capability is an empowering act and cuts the enormous cost down to available-to-all run-of-the-mill, so I agree: upstream all the solutions! :-)

    I get that the signing community loses people -- and culture -- when a cochlear implant bridges over an inability to hear on par with a set range of standard deviations of the normal. That's the network effect punishing a socially-cohesive group.

    I'm sure that carbon-fibre powered chairs and ultra-capacitor batteries and tentacle fing-longer grapplers and bug-eye optic sensors and crab-walking all-terrain harnesses and Heinlein-Starship-Trooper power armour will garner the same network effect, and it sucks to be on the wrong side of progress.

  3. extra88 says:

    Some design changes have benefits beyond those for people with officially designated disabilities, but the first time I saw a story about the iBOT, I thought providing something like that to everyone who needs a wheelchair would be better than squeezing elevators or other lifts into many existing buildings.

    • J. Peterson says:

      For all the wonders of the iBOT, I've yet to see one rolling in the wild, even in silicon valley. In the mean time, ramps and elevators aren't a bad idea.

  4. Tom Boutell says:

    Exoskeletons, like battery-powered bicycles, remain a niche solution because of the power drain. There are already tremendous economic motivations to find more compact solutions to power storage and more efficient ways to use the power. It's just a very hard set of problems. I figure you know this, but it bears mentioning in this context.

    Curb cuts and wider sidewalks are expensive to create, but free to operate (excepting long term maintenance) and don't have to be charged.

    If we're going for solutions that require New Science, we may as well pour that dough into nerve repair research. But I'd still want to see a lot spent on quality of life for those who have to wait for the results.

  5. I don't agree with his priorities if they involve letting the existing neglected infrastructure decay even more under the burden of its deferred maintenance debt. I'd far rather trim the fat out of, say, military procurement overspending. Budget overruns in the tens of millions aren't uncommon there, and in some cases can be in the low billions.

  6. rmk says:

    What ends up happening with a 'technological' approach that starts from the premise that disabled people are especially burdensome and must infinitely adapt to abled people's decisions at any consequence to our own safety and comfort, is that the richest disabled people with the most common issues live as second-class citizens while the rest of us end up in a third class. ADA itself tends in this direction already: if you're not rich or a lawyer, generally your available options are to accept exclusion or FOAD. Focusing on the money spent for ADA retrofitting assumes that there was something normal, even acceptable, about negligently or intentionally (remember, eugenics was policy in many blue states for decades) building an exclusionary society.

    • jwz says:

      I get what you're saying, but I think it's a leap to imply that the existence of two-story buildings without elevators is "negligently building an exclusionary society". There's another fix.

      We don't use QWERTY keyboards because they're a good idea, we use them because they're the precedent. We don't have the clutch on the left and the gas on the right because that's the best, but because that's the de facto and de jure standard. And because even if there was an objectively better design, flag days are expensive.

      You can change all the interfaces, or you can adapt to the interfaces as they exist. I suspect that in the long term, the latter is not only cheaper but more effective.

      If I found myself unable to walk up stairs, I'd be much more interested in a single-point upstream patch that allowed me to walk up all the stairs, than an innumerable downstream fix that involved pre-patching all stairs I might ever come in contact with.

  7. rmk says:

    Oh, and no surprise that the thread is rife with victim-blaming as transparently one-sided as insinuating people who don't have invasive surgeries for others' extra convenience are "on the wrong side of history" - instead of, say, politicos, commentariat and R&D people who insist they're wiser and more knowledgeable than the people who live with the disability in question. Autism leaps out as an example, where we ask for comprehensive social supports and get an 'Equilibrium' sequel written by Icarus instead.

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