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Will Sherman

July 25th, 2016: Its six oclock in the morning on whats looking like is going to be another
normal summer Saturday in Canton, Ohio. Melissa Loomis lets her dogs out in the back yard as she
busies herself with the coffee machine on her kitchen counter. Suddenly, after hearing what she describes
as a horrible noise from the yard, Loomis peers out her window to realize that her pets are cornering
and are about to attack a raccoon she hadnt noticed was outside. Unsuspecting of the creatures violent
intentions, Melissa sprints towards the dogs and attempts to pry them away from the Raccoon. While
aiming to save the animals life, Loomis got too close for comfort, and the Carnivorous rodent attacked.
After contracting an unidentified infection from the bite, doctors told Melissa that they would
have to amputate her arm, or else she would die. In the absence of her dominant arm, Loomis saw her life
grow multitudinously more difficult, and the majority of daily activities that she never consciously
acknowledged required two fully functioning arms became impossible to complete alone. However,
because of recent biotechnological innovation in prosthetics, surgeons that operated on Melissa conducted
a procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation surgery (all from Watch This). In this operation, nerves
in remaining parts of the arm of an amputee are transferred to specific regions called target muscles.
These muscles, which, after the amputation, no longer serve a specific purpose, are made into amplified
biological indicators that receive enormous amounts of neural control signals because of the reorientation
of nerves. These neurological signals sent from the brain to the nerves are what control biological
movement, so the implementation of a device that can acquire these signals at target muscles and decode
them to portray simple physical commands creates the ability to have mind controlled prosthetic devices

(Targeted Muscle). However, what made her procedure particularly special was an attempt to achieve
targeted sensory reinnervation, that would apply the same principle as muscle reinnervation, but with the
nerves that correspond to feeling and touch. Because of this surgery and the prosthetic device created by
the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory that corresponded to the biological alteration performed in
Melissa, she was able to receive a bionic arm that restored her ability to naturally use and feel in her right
arm (all motherboard).
Bionic innovation that has helped amputees and the disabled has been increasingly prevalent in
our society for the past decade, and we are approaching a point where stories like Melissa Loomis are no
longer incredible. In fact, bionics and next generation robots is considered by many to be one of the top
ten most rapidly progressing scientific fields in todays society (Top Ten). However, while there are
clearly numerous advantages to the recent biotechnological innovation in prosthetics, I believe it is
important that we consider the implications bionic progression has in our future and the ethical dilemmas
that accompany such innovation. Though humanity has always been progressive in respect to the
development of our abilities and knowledge, it is important to consider how our innovation now, at a time
where technological innovation has skyrocketed in our society, will affect the future.
The inherent characteristic human beings posses of continuously attempting to improve upon
ourselves stems from a lack of any particular natural physical advantage we have over our surroundings.
Elisabeth Malartre and Gregory Benford, distinguished professors and authors of a scientific novel that
explores the history of biotechnology suggest that the urge to improve upon the human body is at least as
old as our species itself (Beyond Human Living with Robots and Cyborgs). In order to supplement the
shortcomings associated with our physical characteristics, we have relied on a superior ability to wield
knowledge in order to survive and thrive on earth. Part of what has made this psychological advantage
humans have such a heightening characteristic is the unparalleled mental capacity that permits us to
fathom manipulation of external resources in beneficial ways. Essentially, our ability to utilize tools, or as
we now call it, technology, like no other animal has propelled human domination of the world and created
a society greatly influenced by this heavily relied upon technology. While this technological usage and

reliance has made man the most developed animal on earth, the drawbacks associated with it that become
increasingly prevalent as time continues reveal to us why ethical analyses of how we use technology to
better our natural selves is essential.
Thesis: In this paper, I will argue that while the path we have embarked on will in all likelihood lead us
towards a future heavily influenced by biotechnology, the dynamic of this future is dependent upon our
ability to recognize the ethical dilemmas that accompany innovation in bionics today and our willingness
to proceed with caution and consideration. In the first part of my paper, I will explore the history of
bionics and biotechnology with regards to its application in prosthetics, looking at how innovation in the
field has helped us increasingly improve human abilities and supplement biological drawbacks with
technology. In the next section of my paper I will analyze current innovation in prosthetics that stem from
the application of bionics and how technology currently being produced in this scientific department
warrants an ethical minefield. In the third section of my paper I will discuss these ethical concerns that are
arising in response to biotechnological innovation and the validity of such consternation in respect to
bionic progression. I will conclude my paper by looking at how we might proceed with seemingly
inevitable biotech research so that the future it leads us towards is one that we are sure we want to live in.
A Historical Look at Bionics
In order to make an argument about why the progression of biotechnology warrants preemptive
considerations and regulations regarding technological development, it is important to first have a
common and comprehensive understanding of what bionics is.
Due to the incredibly drastic alteration of the field since its origins, which presents a
completely tangential argument of what can and should be considered as bionics, a definite and objective
timeline representing the emergence and development of the field is essentially unachievable 1 (The
History of Bionics). Some believe that bionics was created as a subdivision of prosthetic technology,
which can be traced back to early BCE (The History of Bionics). This would suggest that although not
particularly identified as a separate field until the past half century, bionics has, contrary to its history

depicted in my paper, been an active part of scientific innovation for thousands of years. However, due to
the lack of correlation demonstrated in the original definition of bionics, and the documented innovation
in the field not related to prosthetics (BIOS/Instrumentation Industry), I regard the two disciplines
separate in this paper, only connected through biotechnology's relatively recent application in prostheses
progression. Therefore, in order to fully represent the forthcoming of modern biotechnology, I will in this
paper consider the time period and setting in which the first recorded definition was produced as the
origin of the field of bionics.
As defined originally in 1959 by Major Jack E. Steele, bionics is the process by which one
acquires biological knowledge, then reduces it to mathematical terms that are meaningful to an
engineer(The Instrumentation Industry or Steele (Who do I cite?)- if first, find another source bc use it
below). In simpler terms, bionics is a problem solving procedure that utilizes biology and technological
engineering to reach some end goal. Though this definition may be somewhat simplistic and not fully
representative of the biotechnological innovation I will explore in my paper, it serves well to represent the
jumping-off point for bionic exploration. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the US Air Force decided to
explore experimentation with technology that would potentially enhance the biological abilities of
soldiers, in hopes of strengthening the abilities and advantages retained by the armed forces. Scientists
and engineers initially looked to nature, mirroring auxiliary bionic devices to desirable traits found in
animals (Bios). Arguably one of the earliest developments in bionics and an example of such mirroring
design was the attempt to create wearable sonar radar that mimicked a bats echo location abilities, to be
used by troops in identifying unseen threats during battle (The Instrumentation Industry, Bios- what if two
sources say this, cite both?). This experiment and others geared towards implementing beneficial traits
found in nature into technology and then applying that technology to humans is what drove bionics
forward in the years just after its contraception (Biological Insight into Mechanical Design). It was
obvious to military scientists and engineers at the time that the best and most practical way to eliminate
humans biological limitations was to look to outside sources, such as nature, for inspiration (Biological
Insight into Mechanical Design). That was, until NASA picked up bionic research from the military in an

attempt to ameliorate human deficiencies so they could explore the vastness of space without harm
(Where are the Cyborgs in Cybernetics?).
In 1958, the U.S. president Dwight D Eisenhower signed an executive order creating the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in an attempt to compete with Russian space travel at the
height of the Cold War (PRES E. NASA). When John F. Kennedy took over as president, he continued
this space travel initiative and instituted a rigorous agenda that promised to land an American man on the
moon before the end of the decade (The Space Race). This constituted supreme amounts of funding and
research for the space program throughout the 60s, which compelled NASA to look past the moon landing
and onto missions that required extended time periods of space travel, such as the quest to put man on
Mars (Where are the Cyborgs in Cybernetics?). However, this optimistic initiative to explore the reaches
of space was complicated by a shortcoming of technological abilities at the time, and before they were to
complete any of their next goals, NASA needed to devise some way to ensure spacecraft safety during
extended travels into the depths of the universe far away from earth. In looking for a means by which they
could improve flight technology, the federal space agency stumbled upon a recently conjured military
program dedicated solely to enhancing technology by mirroring machine functions to inherent animal
traits (Engineering Derivatives). The initiative to increase the likelihood of human safety during extended
space travel started with the analysis of the crafts used to carry astronauts, but quickly transitioned to
focus on the people going into space themselves. NASA didnt know how or if human systems would
function when subjected to space conditions for long periods of time, so they began looking into
improving human biology with technology. They eventually realized that the same scientific approach
they had used to enhance the probability of endurance in extremely foreign environments of space crafts
could also be applied directly to improving human abilities. (The Cybernetic Moment).
NASA implemented bionics research into the space travel program and began searching for a way
to solve its problem in the scope of this new field, and in doing so inadvertently changed the nature of
bionics how it would progress in the coming years. Instead of using nature to influence the design of
accommodating technological devices as before, engineers focused on directly enhancing human

biological systems through an integration of mechanical devices. This method of direct aid replaced the
mirroring approach almost instantly thereafter throughout the bionic world, and the alteration in research
transpired with seemingly perfect timing (History of Bionics* should find something that says it more
specifically). Biotech had just started down the path paved by many other prominent fields in that it had
begun transitioning out of the military realm and into the public domain when the nature of the field
evolved (The Instrumentation Industry). This meant that all of the resources used by the scientific
community in bionic studies would be dedicated to this more feasible and practical approach to human
advancement. When private sector researchers approached the emerging field after its newly retargeted
focus on human systems, they immediately saw a revolutionary application of biotech to the long
standing science of prosthetics (The Body Electric). Engineers would, with the intertwining these two
disciplines, again redefine bionics and help progress biotechnological science further than conceivably
possible.
Until the realization that biotechnology fit perfectly into the realm of prosthetics, the field was
virtually facing an innovative standstill (History, Touch Bionics). Though the long standing practice had
admittedly not progressed particularly far since its origins, the rapidly advancing scientific world and
numerous technological feats that occurred in the late 1900s exacerbated the notion that the field was not
changing and showed us how in this new tech fueled world, prosthetics was being left behind 3 (Tech
nostalgia and THE HISTORY OF PROSTHETICS). During a time in which the GPS allowed constant
knowledge of location, and internet was progressing to a point where it could be used to do things not
previously fathomable, the only development in prosthetics was the addition of personalized sockets and
manually adjustable joints to the Jaipur Leg 2 (Timeline: Prosthetic Limbs Through the Years, Giant
Steps). However, as engineers freshly acquainted with the newly publicized field of bionics pursued
biotech research and realized its potential application in prosthetics, the lagging nature of artificial limb
development slowly dispersed, and in its place emerged an innovative process that would push the
forefront for human exploration in science. Engineers could, with the application of fundamental bionic
principles, implement machines into human biological systems, thereby replacing synthetic parts

dedicated only to promoting stationary balance and aesthetics with ones that allowed for advanced
manipulation and enhancement abilities (Smart Bionic). When, in the early 2000s, this conception of a
machine-human interface transitioned into a phase of actual scientific application, the nature of bionics
was refocused on prosthetic development and innovation (Bionic Women / History Touch). The field was
essentially redefined as the applicable merging of mechanical and biological systems that serve to replace
and supplement physical abilities lost in humans requiring prosthetics 3 (Dictionary.com). This new
perspective of bionics uncovered several alternative paths of progression, whose exploration lead us to a
present world where there are constant debates about bionics and its righteousness within our society
(Oscar Pistorius). It is imperative that we explore the innovation in the time period leading up to this
present, given that the majority of the ethical debate surrounding biotech progression is based upon, or
directly related to, technology derived from it.
Bionic Innovation in the Past Decade
Dr. Hugh Herr, a distinguished professor and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology has been called the forefather of the modern-day prosthetics and is considered to be one of
the most influential engineers of contemporary bionic innovation since its established affiliation with
prosthetics (How Science). A rock climbing accident in the mid 1980s that resulted in the double
amputation of both of his legs sparked an interest in prosthetics science, where he saw an enormous
potential for improvement (Ted Talk). The transformative developments Herr has contributed to the
scientific community since stepping into the biotechnological realm not only attest to his proclaimed title
but truly display the pinnacle of bionic innovation throughout the past decade and serve as a constantly
progressive source that may assist in tracking the advancements of the time period where in which ethical
dilemmas about bionics arose.
Herrs inspiration and drive to perfect the human body through the scope of bionic innovation
was derived from the mindset he developed after his accident. He reasoned, contrary to so many other
amputees that had simply accepted disability and the weakness of the human biology, that a human
being can never be broken. Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate (Ted Talk). The mentality

that permitted Dr. Herr to view his situation as solvable and only a problem because technology was
underdeveloped encouraged his desire to create a world where prosthetics could match, or even surpass,
the abilities of biological limbs. His primary technical analysis of the field essentially confirmed Herrs
assumption that bionics and prosthetic science was lagging behind. With such an outstanding lack of
innovative development and still immediate room for drastic improvement, prosthetic science was ready
for major expansion. Herr exploited the infrequent opportunity and implemented three subsystem focuses
into the prosthetic design that would come to redefine the field and stand as the groundwork for the new
age biotech research I am questioning the morality of in this paper; mechanical design, dynamic
movement, and electrical interface (Ted Talk).
Though all three of the newly developed considerations influencing the updated prosthetic design
were integral in bionic progression, I do not explore the dynamic interface in this paper because of the
major influence desired dynamics have in mechanical design and its lack of relative, sole influence on the
creation of ethically questionable devices (Ted Talk). The need for a solid foundation where in which new
bionic technology could be implemented and the severely underdeveloped preexisting models made
mechanical design the obvious primary focus of biomechanical advancement (Mechanical Design).
The main goal of updating the mechanical design for prosthetics was to realistically mimic the
functionality and dynamic of human systems, mostly because of the familiarity accompanied with the use
of biological limbs in the conscious and subconscious (talk about how later easy to train the minds bc
accustomed) minds of those using the devices 4 (SOURCE). However, because of his distinguished view
of what prosthetics could do and the personal ability he retained to experience what would and would not
work, Dr. Herr explored innovation from a different angle (Pushing). His background in rock climbing
and the desire to continue his passion, which would require limbs capable of supporting him in various
terrains, inspired the idea of specialized prosthetics, which would come to redefine the potential ability
amputees possessed as well as the nature of prosthetics. Artificial limbs, unlike biological ones, could
now be continuously redesigned in order to accomplish specific needs (Ted Talk). For the first time, those
with prosthetics would no longer be considered unfit for physical competition because of a lack of

biological substance, but instead because of the unfair advantages artificial limbs would give to them (An
Amputee). After developing a solution to the problem surrounding artificial limbs ability to perform
uncommon tasks, Herr tried his hand at creating mechanical biomimicry. After fair amounts of research of
the human biology, he eventually succeeded in creating the first diverse contribution to prosthetic science
in dozens of years (BiOM); a complex system of microprocessors and battery powered motor fueled
robotics that mirrored real limbs by propelling users forward with each step (Giant Steps) instead of
forcing them to lift deadweight5 (The Bionic Real). This first major development from Herr was
important because it broke the wall of limitation that had surrounded prosthetic progression for the past
half decade and marked the start of an age of revolutionary prosthetic innovation (Giant Steps).
Though there were dozens of innovations and advancements made to the overall mechanical
design and motor abilities of prosthetics, attempting to describe them all would be needlessly time
consuming and would serve no purpose to my overarching argument. Therefore in this section I will only
discuss the mechanical developments that either significantly helped progress prosthetic science towards
the creation of ethically questionable devices or those that play an actual and definite part in the design of
such devices.
Biomimetic actuators were the first major and widespread development to the mechanical
interface of new age prosthetics. These devices, which were almost instantly adapted as commonplace in
prosthetics after their creation, served to create a more seamless connection between biological and
artificial systems by measuring biological tissue compliance and altering the stiffness in the prosthetic to
correspond to desired movement and support (New Joint/Biomimetic). A generally progressive actuator
system that attests to the constant innovation occurring in biotechnology, even within extremely specific
subfields, called the continuously variable series-elastic actuator was developed from joint research
between the MIT bionics research group and a new age prosthetic company called BiOM. This design
uses constantly updating feedback from the actuators within the prosthetic to reduce unnecessary torque
and therefore motor work requirements, which then minimizes wasteful electrical energy consumption
and allows power redistribution throughout the device6 (Series Elastic).

Immediately

following

the

development

of

actuators

was

the

implementation

of

electromyography systems and the adaptation of myoelectric prosthetics into the actuator design.
Electromyographic (EMG) devices translate electrical signals related to muscle contraction from the brain
into decipherable values, which can then be fed to pattern recognition information software within the
prosthetic device and used to predict necessary mechanical adjustments for repetitive activities 7
(Development, Electromyography). Though this can technically be viewed as the first adaptation of an
electronically interfaced prosthetic device, the biomimicry EMG allows us to achieve and its reliance
upon the mechanical design make its conception fit more accurately within the scope of mechanical
innovation of prosthetics (Myoelectric, Direct).
The final, and arguably most important mechanical adaptation of prosthetics in the past decade
that I will be discussing in relation to ethical dilemmas facing bionics is sensory torque application of the
myoelectric design8. A description of how the device work, as given by Dr. Hugh Herr, founder of BiOM,
a previously mentioned biotech company that developed the sensory torque system, is given below.
At heel strike, under computer control, the system controls stiffness, to attenuate the shock of the
limb hitting the ground. Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs high torques and powers to
lift the person into the walking stride, comparable to how muscles work in the calf region (Ted
Talk).
Though the drastically enhanced functionality users of artificial limbs saw when operating this
system was a huge feat for prosthetic science, the incredibly enhanced shock absorption this design
offered is what makes this innovative step so ridiculously important when discussing the ethics of bionics
(Neural Control). Amputees now paired with mechanical limbs that contained the sensory torque design
faced, because of the efficiency with which the system functioned, less stress on their biological limbs
when performing physical activities than those without prosthetics (Ted Talk). This was just another
example of the superiority mechanical systems were beginning to develop over biological ones that led to
controversy surrounding prosthetic innovation.
Though the radical alteration of the prosthetic design completely redefined mobility and comfort
for amputees, as Herr explains above, it was just the start of the revolutionary innovation that was to

come. There was a significant uptick in diversified prosthetic research during the first stage, but as the
progression continued and prosthetics became a major player in biotechnological science, a widespread
increase in bionic experimentation that created rivaling technological developments and a wave of rapid
innovation would occur.
As the ability to progress in the purely mechanical realm started to dwindle, engineers found that
the highly advanced mechanical devices they had just developed were ready and able to be equipped with
revolutionary electronic interfaces (The Bionic Man). The nature of the generally unforeseen rapid
expansion of prosthetic science during the attempted application of this electronic interface as well as the
introduction of arguably the first adaptive electronic prosthetic device can be seen in the works of
distinguished biomedical engineer William Craelius. He stated, in 2002, that direct neural control of
prosthetic limbs was not yet understood and therefore not preferable to robotic actuators when
considering adaptive control of artificial limbs, when, in reality, several teams and individual researchers,
including himself, were on their way to proving him severely wrong (The Bionic Rest.). In the same year,
months after publishing the paper that included this assertion that neurologically controlled limbs could
not yet become a reality for prosthetics, Craelius developed the Dextra Hand; a device that utilized pre
existing nerve pathways in the body to allow thought controlled movement of artificial limbs (The Body
Electric). Although this model technically bypassed the need for an electronic interface and did not
actually require a comprehensive understanding of how to intercept and decode neurological signals from
the brain, which meant that Craelius both affirmed and contradicted his previous assertion, it is generally
considered to be the first electronically controlled artificial limb it started us down the path towards truly
neurally controlled prosthetics (The Bionic Rest.).
In order to understand the way in which bionics and prosthetics progressed with the
implementation of neurally controlled mechanics more completely, it is essential that we recognize the
differences between upper and lower body extremity innovation. Essentially, when prosthetics began to
reach the level of complexity that called for neural control integration, there developed a split pathway of
progression following either artificial arms or legs, mainly because of the vast differences in the

biological systems controlling them that need not be considered before. Although progressive concepts
were still shared throughout the biotechnological prosthetic field, the two developmental paths each side
faced were different, and so we must treat them as individuals when tracking their progression. (I came to
this conclusion in my research- do I need to cite?)
Starting with lower level extremities and electronic innovation in prosthetics regarding the use
and functionality of legs. Initially when approaching neural control and adaptive augmentation of
prosthetic devices that stemmed from biological movements, researchers attempted to bypass actual
neural comprehension and worked separately from the brain because of, as Craelius pointed out, a lack of
in depth comprehension on this front (the bionic man rest., Giant Steps). Instead, engineers continuously
relied on, and built their adaptive systems around, electromyographic designs (A wearable). This system
worked moderately well for some time and the results that came out of its integration into prosthetic
devices encouraged the concept of neurally controlled prosthetics, but there were inherent issues that
accompanied the continuous ignorance of the sophisticated circuitry in the spinal chord being bypassed
with EMG designs. The computers attempting achieve naturalistic control of the devices are required to
do much more work when relying on EMG information, which meant that without a completely
transformative development to software storage that would allow four high functioning CPUs to be
contained on one miniscule device, realistic improvements to neural control prosthetics could not be made
(The Bionic REAL). So, seeing this deficiency in the current path of progression for neurally controlled
leg prosthetics, Dr. Herr and his team at BiOM set out to discover the unknown about neural signals and
how to intercept them, thereby closing the gap between mechanical and biological control. They found
the knowledge and started developing an interface that would create bidirectional communication
between nerves in residual limbs and circuitry within the prosthetics (Neural Implants). Another
description from Herr on how this technology works is provided below9.
Across my residual limb are electrodes that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles. That's
communicated to the bionic limb, so when I think about moving my phantom limb, the robot
tracks those movement desires. So we model the missing biological limb, and we've discovered
what reflexes occurred, how the reflexes of the spinal cord are controlling the muscles. And that
capability is embedded in the chips of the bionic limb. What we've done, then, is we modulate the

sensitivity of the reflex, the modeled spinal reflex, with the neural signal,so when I relax my
muscles in my residual limb, I get very little torque and power, but the more I fire my muscles,
the more torque I get, and I can even run (Ted Talk).
This technology essentially made the interaction between artificial and biological systems
completely seamless and no different in functionality than normal biological limbs (Neural Implants).
Moving on to upper level extremities. The progression of new age arm prosthetics followed a
comparably less linear path than leg prosthetics did in the past decade. Essentially, because of the success
with which myoelectric devices in arm prosthetics achieved in mimicking biological systems, it remained
at the height of upper limb prosthetic innovation for an extended period (Myoelectric). Only recently was
the design updated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory with the introduction of specialized
targeted reinnervation surgery (APLs). This operation, as described previously, uses the redistribution of
nerves to specialized regions within the remaining limb to create an amplification of electrical signals
then manipulated to allow for neural control and sensory restoration 10 (Targeted Muscle, Targeted
Sensory). While targeted reinnervation is certainly the most progressive development in upper body
neural prosthetics, its requiring specialized surgery in the amputation process makes the design
inapplicable to all users and therefore not completely ideal (APL/ TMR). The lack of a singularly
accepted optimal design for artificial arms resulted in an unfocused goal and the widespread though not
particularly thorough innovation from a multitude of biotech companies and university labs 11.
Nonetheless, upper limb extremities had, in a single decade of innovation, progressed so thoroughly that,
just as was the case with leg prosthetics, the line between mechanical and biological abilities was
beginning to blur.
The equality, and even superiority, with which prosthetics was now regarded in comparison to
biological limbs demonstrated an enormous progression of the field and stood to redefine the conceivable
possibilities of biotechnology. People, such as Amos Kwon or Gear Patrol realized that The real question
the world should be asking isnt will prosthetic science match what evolution spent 200,000 years
perfecting?, but rather, when will it surpass it? (Life and Limb). When this already present or eventual
superiority was recognized, companies such as SuitX, BiOM, and Hyundai started developing

exoskeletons that could be used to reduce metabolic exertion for humans without disabilities, thereby
ensuring that not only amputees would benefit from progressing bionic technology 12 (Ted Talk, SuitX,
Biomech find page). However, the re-broadening of bionics and its instrumental role in creating
machinery more efficient at performing human tasks than the human body itself would result in the
establishment of ethical controversies surrounding further progression of bionic science.
Ethical Controversies Surrounding Bionic Innovation
As prosthetic science progresses, and the potentially enormous benefits bionics may deliver to
those utilizing the technology is uncovered, there grows an increasingly heightened uncomfortability
accompanying biotech innovation and the ethics behind its augmentation. However, relative to parallel
scientific fields that have undergone severe criticism and ongoing surveillance analysis, the field of
bionics has been subject to grossly underdeveloped ethical considerations and has faced almost no
precautionary measures that might ensure its beneficial results. In this section I will explore ethical
concerns that have arised in the general public in addition to my own and discuss the necessity for
cautionary progression and oversight implementation to the field of bionics.
One major concern surrounding prosthetic enhancement in the past decade and how it might
negatively affect our society is its role within the world of sports and physical competition. Because of the
now infamous double paraplegic Oscar Pistorius, who, after running the 400 meter dash in the 2012
summer Olympics held in London, England, became the first amputee runner to compete in the Games,
many are familiar with this portion of the debate regarding bionics and prosthetics (Oscar). The
questioning of whether Pistorius prosthetic legs gave him an advantage, which many thought to be
ridiculous due to the tremendously outdated stigma regarding prosthetics and its classification as a
disability, was actually quite legitimate. Significant bionic innovation has in some instances, as in the case
of Pistorius legs which returned mechanical energy in each stride and created more productive cycle,
made mechanical functionality more efficient than biological movement which prompted the separation
of completely biological and paraplegic athletes (Are High). However, the advantageous characteristics of
prosthetics that resulted in its established illegality within conventional athletics have enhanced the

paraplegic subdivision of sports by creating competition between more dominant athletes and brought us
to an age where the paralympics is soon to be the sporting event attended to watch humans go faster,
stronger, and higher (Superhuman). The recently produced physical superiority of technology has resulted
in a questioning of the true nature of sports and whether it is correct to consider physical competition
between bionically enhanced competitors athletics when the pinnacle of ability displayed in said
competitions would be based upon technological, instead of physical, abilities (Are High). As early as
1997, before any of the truly astonishing and revolutionary prosthetic developments of the past decade
were produced, this concern was expressed by biotech researchers such as Gideon Ariel, an African
Biomechanist who stated that mechanical limbs would be able to do amazing things, but would defeat
the purpose [of athletics], because then it's not really a sport anymore (Sports). Although the alteration of
the nature of sports may not be devastatingly detrimental to the wellbeing of our society, and therefore not
particularly keynote in terms of necessary ethical considerations surrounding bionic innovation, it serves
as an excellent microcosm for the broader issue of what can happen when prosthetic technology surpasses
biological abilities.
What the major portion of the ethical debate on bionic progression already presented in the
scientific community boils down to is essentially whether there is a realistic possibility that bionics will
become so advanced people will elect to replace healthy biological parts with mechanically designed
ones, and this actions morally permissibility within our society (Bionic Ethics, Ethical Questions). While
some, like Peter Sachsenmeier of Hertford College, believe that this debate is largely theoretical at the
moment because of a lack of definite dominance of bionics, I cannot imagine a time or situation where in
which it would more realistic and applicable (Industry). Although I agree with the assertion that artificial
limbs are not yet definitively more functional or physically able than natural limbs, prosthetics already
possess an advantage that qualifies the current relevance of this discussion; adaptability. Amputees retain
the capability to, as technological developments arise, update and improve upon their mechanical bodies
indefinitely, whereas those with purely biological systems are subject to eventual and inevitable
degradation (The Weekend, Superhuman). This being said, it is somewhat surprising to me that we have

not already, and certainly conceivable that we might soon reach a point where there is a widespread desire
to trade biological limbs for mechanical ones. Therefore, regardless of the assertions given by those
denying its immediate importance, ethical dilemmas that might arise in the manifestation of this
pragmatic future must be addressed.
The primarily ethical perplexity that accompanies innovative bionics leading us to a
mechanically dominated future is the contemplation of where the line should be drawn to prevent overuse
of bionic technology that might result in the creation of a superhuman that wields god-like powers
(Ethics and Neural Prosthetics). Though this outcome may seem slightly over-dramatized and far-fetched,
new age technological innovators including Dr. Hugh Herr himself suggest that "there's a technological
arc that climbs upwardly with an increasing slope in time" and that while "it's inconceivable to me and
everyone else what the world's going to look like 20 years from now, often the predictions are too
conservative (The Weekend). Another worrisome dilemma that could potentially originate from the
ubiquitous implementation of bionic limbs into healthy people is the incredible progression the field
would see thereafter. Professor Saeed Zahedi, the head of research and development at Blatchfords and
Sons Prosthetic Design company suggests that is it realistic to imagine that the disabled could become
the super-abled sometime in the near future (How to Create). If this is true even before it becomes
commonplace among humans to possess mechanical parts, imagine the rapid and enormous advancement
bionic technology would see if its innovation suddenly became universally applicable. While enhanced
rates and increasingly progressive innovation within biotechnology may appear beneficial, I implore you
to consider the resulting growth of physical ability differentiation between purely biological and
mechanically equipped bodies. We would have to accommodate for those who do not posses prosthetic
devices, because of the significant disadvantages that the human biology would then retain 13(The future).
In other words, we will have willingly turned the possession and use of our own natural bodies into a
disability.
Transitioning into a less frequently addressed, though I believe equally important, ethical
quandary associated with recent and continued bionic innovation; humans increasing technological

reliance and the resulting absence of our seemingly necessary biological development. When bionic
engineers found that the mechanical system they had devised for prosthetics significantly reduced high
impact stress and physical exertion for residual biological systems, they decided to recreate the
technology for universal application (Ted Talk). In almost every case of preliminary testing of the
exoskeletons bionic teams developed consequentially, the data produced revealed reduced overall
exertion, enhanced physical performance, and decreased stress issued to biological joints during uniform
motion (Exoskeleton). The MIT Media Lab found in applicable exoskeleton studies that the design was
so profound in its augmentation, that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutes and
then takes it off, their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward (Ted Talk). Again,
although this development may appear to be a completely beneficial and groundbreaking next innovative
step for mankind, if you approach the results, produced in the first round of prototype testing nonetheless,
with a critical and precautionary mindset, you will see the inherent flaws associated with this next phase
of bionic progression. Feeling heavy and awkward whilst operating under the solely the stress of body
weight indicates a lack of any profound biological exertion for an extended period of time (Muscle
Weakness). This is extremely alarming when assuming the significant role exoskeletons will play in
humanity's future because it exemplifies how the implementation of this bionic technology will limit
physical exertion required to develop a healthy human body (Does Ex). If we adopt this technological
innovation without regulating usage or thoroughly considering the negative consequences it may entail,
we are simply subjecting ourselves to inevitable regressive physical evolution that could result in the
deterioration of the human race in the case of a technological shortage or catastrophe.
Though the complete dissolution of humanity appears to be an overly enthusiastic conclusion and
would, in the seemingly rare case of its fulfillment, require decades of ignorance regarding the effects of
bionic implementation, it is still the primary concern in the final, though admittedly least frequently
addressed, major ethical dilemma surrounding biotech innovation. As demonstrated by prosthetic
innovation in the past decade, the integration of bionic technology into human systems can dissolve our
inherent physical deficiencies and limitations, thereby allowing the concepts of immortality and

invincibility for humans to emerge as somewhat realistic (Giant Steps). Newfound knowledge has
continuously proliferated the human lifespan, and the application of biotechnology in eliminating the very
concept of an upper bound on life is technically just another example of this long lived human
progression (Beyond Human). However, it is important to realize how, in breaking from the single
inescapable limitation we as humans possess, this development, sought after for its ability to eternally
expand humanity could, in reality, destroy it. Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis of Macquarie
University addresses this necessary ethical consideration in his article on bionic innovation as seen below.
What makes us human? Is it our bodies? Our brains? Our emotions? Or something more
intangible? Advances in human bionics may eventually require us to rethink our concepts of what
it is to be human, as the lines between human and machine become increasingly blurred (Bionic
Limbs)
While there could be a more thorough exploration of ethical dilemmas surrounding current bionic
innovation, there is a relatively sufficient amount of concern being expressed currently that has sparked at
the very least a minute overall desire to more closely evaluate the implications its progression on our
future. Where we are lacking is in the actual implementation of definite precautionary systems called for
in the expression of these ethical concerns that can monitor biotech progression and ensure its part in
producing a continuously desirable society. Some researchers have assured their intentions to assist in
developing legislation or monetary governmental agencies to help guide augmentation in the right
direction, but there have been no such developments and little if any evidence of their planned
establishment (Giant Steps). Some who have addressed this absence of regulation for bionic innovation
suggest that because of the lack of general affordability and what looks like little ability to decrease costs
of bionic prosthetics, there is no need for current oversight as there will be no near future public
application14 (Bionic Man Real). However, when questioned about the practicality of bionic prosthetics in
terms of cost and affordability, Hugh Herr responded with the following.
If you look at the total cost over the lifetime of treating a patient, the technology actually
profoundly mitigates the price tag. The major cost of treating people with limb amputation isn't the
prosthesis but the painkillers, as bad prostheses lead to limping and thus physical stresses and fatigue, and
ultimately to arthritis and chronic back and other pain. If the person can't return to work after an accident
or live independently, or falls into drug or alcohol abuse, the average cost to the state works out to about

$5 million to $8 million. When patients, doctors and payers realize that these tools could lead to trillions
of dollars in savings--his estimate--the age of bionics, which is just beginning, will spread like wildfire
(The Weekend).
I believe that there is a desperate need for the establishment of a general regulatory system that
can oversee bionic innovation and ensure its rightful progression. Although I recognize that it is difficult
to develop preemptive precautions regarding ethical boundaries of scientific progression due to our lack
of finite knowledge about where exactly we are heading, I believe that, especially in the case of
biotechnology, it is best to over prepare proactively than wait for re evaluation post catastrophe. As
Hayden Mccormick points out in his dissertation of the moral and ethical implications of advanced
prosthetics, the future will come. The only thing we can change is how we embrace it (Moral).