Why Being a Cyborg Won’t Be as Awesome As You Think

From legal ambiguities to tech companies that just leave you hanging, those bionic eyes and superhuman internal organs might be more trouble than they’re worth
Why Being a Cyborg Won’t Be as Awesome As You Think

Along with flying cars and armies of robots that remove any justification of capitalism, our collective vision of the perfect future isn’t complete without bitchin’ bodily upgrades. Gone will be the days when you’ll ever have to worry about losing your sight, hearing, limbs, memory, etc. You can just place an order for a shiny new one as easily as you’d order a pizza. You won’t even necessarily need it — just give yourself supersight any time you feel like. Hell, you’ll be the army of robots that remove any justification of capitalism!

But unlike the flying cars, which would be an air-traffic nightmare so just shut up about them, we’re well on our way to that future, and we’ve discovered a whole lot of problems with it. It’s not just how easy it would be to turn you into a robot, but make no mistake, that’s part of it.

The first problem is the purely physical component. Modern surgery is still only somewhat better than the Civil War battlefield days — don’t Google the incidence of surgical tools being left inside patients if you ever want to get through a routine appendectomy without tons of Valium in addition to the normal fun drugs — and that’s even when we’re not building new organs. Bionic limbs can break your bones or just break themselves, leaving you potentially worse off than you were before, or at least begging God to do the It’s a Wonderful Life thing and turn back the clock. Your body also has a built-in defense system against anything that isn’t itself and tends to reject artificial organs by forming blood clots and scar tissue that, in the words of one scientist, acts “like glue on internal organs, causing constrictions that can be painful and lead to serious problems.” Ever felt yourself turn to glue? It doesn’t sound fun.

Even if you’ve successfully cyborged yourself, you’ve just opened up your body to hackers. Every smart lock owner has coped with the unlikely but nagging fear that someone is going to tamper with them for Purge reasons, and the stakes are considerably higher when it’s not your locks but, say, your insulin pump. Of course, that also means cybersecurity is a lot higher on these devices, but no system is hack-proof. It’s considered a big enough threat that, in 2013, Dick Cheney de-Wi-Fi’d his pacemaker on account of being the country’s most assassinatable man. 

It’s not just a murder problem, though — at least, not your own. If somebody took control of one or more of your limbs, they could make you do all kinds of things, living out your very own Idle Hands scenario. This is one of many legal disasters waiting to happen, which we’ll get to, although depending on your score on the psychopathy checklist, the possibility of testing the “my leg kicked that guy to death, not me” defense could be a bonus.

A more realistic problem is that, like pretty much all the technology we interact with in our daily lives, bionic body parts eventually become obsolete. That’s always annoying, but instead of having a brick of a phone or a TV, you might have a brick of a pancreas. In theory, the company that services your pancreas would just hook you up with the latest model, but what if that company goes all WeWork and shuts down? It’s not a hypothetical. People who regained their vision from a company called Second Sight lost it all over again after the company ran into financial trouble, stopped making retinal implants and significantly cut back the support offered to current users. One guy had to ask around for “spare parts” after his system broke down and Second Sight left him hanging. That’s the future we’re looking at (or not, as the case may be) — stumbling down to Home Depot to fix our own eyes.

This raises some bizarre legal questions. For example, some jurisdictions have “right to repair” laws that require tech companies to provide the parts for repairs for a minimum length of time for a given product, but it’s unclear how such laws might apply to medical devices. Legally, they have to fix your iPhone, but not your organs. Then there’s the more philosophical side of the law, specifically how much of a person you can replace before they’re no longer legally a person. For example, a pulse is generally considered a requirement for life, but modern artificial hearts don’t create a pulse. We’re aiming for a time when our brains can be replaced with hard drives, but surely, a person without a brain can’t be a person, can they? And historically, the things we do to people we don’t consider people aren’t very nice.

Fortunately, anyone coming up against any of these problems will have a team of lawyers at their disposal and likely a water jug stuffed with hundos labeled “Bribe Money” in their basement, because this shit is expensive as hell. There are people walking around out there with mouths full of cavities because they can’t afford a dental visit, so they definitely can’t afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars these implants cost. That means the only people who will be able to afford this stuff, outside of the odd wretch the health insurance industry decides to arbitrarily smile upon, will be the rich. 

So that’s another possible future we’re looking at: In addition to all the current advantages of wealth, the wealthy will also see better, hear better, move better and never age. They’re no longer regular villains — they’re actual supervillains. But at least all the people hacking them will make for some funny TikToks.

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