Reaching towards the future

This is an extremely important moment in the march towards the future.  Two men, a Serbian identified as 'Milo' and an Austrian named Patrick, have undergone voluntary amputations to remove whole but non-functional hands, and replaced them with functional prosthetic replacements.  Though the story provides little in the way of specifics, there is mention of the men being able to grasp and pinch, and even possessing enough fine motor skill to tie shoes and open bottles.  While the accomplishments of Viennese surgeon Professor Oskar Aszmann are well worth recognizing on their own merits, it's less what has been done that interests me, and more what will be done.

Prosthetic limbs designed to function at human levels are the obvious first step.  They can be used to replace damaged limbs, to return a person to their original level of functionality or even offer up the ability to do things that birth defects might have left a person incapable of ever accomplishing.  But there is no reason to assume, based on the entire recorded progress of human technology, that anyone will be satisfied with 'good enough'.  What Professor Aszmann and those like him are producing isn't just a system to restore lost potential, but the first stage of the systems that will lift humanity beyond its biological limits.

Pictured: The Immediate Future

Because the end result of these technologies is neither more nor less than the reinvention of the human animal.  The ability to make artificial limbs interact with the human nervous system is a quantitative, rather than just qualitative, leap forwards from all previous prosthetic technologies we have devised.  And given that all our tools are, in some form, prosthetic technologies, there are no reasons beyond the purely practical not to integrate increasingly efficient and effective prosthetic systems into our bodies, enhancing and augmenting and, even, replacing entirely biological systems that simply can not compete with plug-and-play parts.  Why wait for a broken arm to mend when you can just slot a replacement in?  And if you've already replaced your arm, why limit yourself to a system that can only lift what the average human can?  There's no reason not to build an arm, connected to a shoulder, connected to a body capable of lifting multiple times what even the strongest human being could manage.  We could become two-legged fork lifts, walking bulldozers and wrecking balls.  But that is only the very tip of what we can, and what I firmly believe we will, become.
Pictured: The Slightly-Less-Immediate Future

Such a fundamental change in the capabilities of the human animal are, of course, a long way off.  But barring any cataclysmic upheaval, there is no reason to assume that there aren't people alive today who will not die with all their original parts, not because they wasted away and had to be replaced by clumsy external support systems, but because they chose to augment their bodies to make them more capable than nature ever could have.

The future is coming.  And it all starts with a hand.

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