CENTER FOR HUMAN FRONTIERS
A s billionaire Elon Musk told the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai, “humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in (an) AI age.” That merger of man and machine results in a dependent relationship that most people would hesitate to embrace. But for a subpopulation of the planet – amputees – who depend on the rapidly-evolving world of prosthetics to function, compete and succeed, depending on technology and hardware becomes an everyday reality. Having joined this population of “early adopters” after a catastrophic injury in 2016 and the amputation of his right leg, Center for Human Frontiers director Albert Yu-Min Lin is leading an effort to redefine how we view human frontiers – and how we harness technology to make up for lost function and even push beyond what have been considered the outer limits of the human mind and body to the development and use of human function-enhancing ‘bodyware’.
The impact of this work extends far beyond the amputee population (40 million globally) and into a broader future that blends mind, body, and technology. Through these efforts we will collaborate with neuroscientists, anthropologists, and economists to explore the human frontiers at three scales:
- Individual: From overcoming functional deficits for amputees to creating technology that boosts individual capabilities through bodyware, etc.;
- Tribal: Exploring how technology can facilitate distributed cognition, e.g., through crowdsourcing;
- Regional/Global: Understanding the implications of human/machine integration on a socio-economic landscape.
The Center for Human Frontiers is an interdisciplinary, project-driven research initiative that could eventually lead to commercialization of new technologies at the man-machine interface. Current projects underway include a distributed infrastructure to dramatically reduce the cost while improving access to prosthetic limbs among the world’s 40 million amputees, as well as a neuroscience-driven project investigating distributed cognition and the extension of the neurological map of the body into hardware.